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      A Glance at New York
    A sidelong "Glance"

    With "A Glance at New York," the Axis Company revives a hit 1848 play, but with a mental-ward wackiness that will leave many confused.

    By TRAV S.D.

    Now that the Metropolitan Theatre has closed its production of the 1845 play Fashion, the distinction of the oldest American play on the boards goes to the Axis Company's revival of Benjamin Baker's 1848 "A Glance at New York." In and of itself, the play is little more than a long-form sketch about a greenhorn who comes to New York and has his eyes opened after having his watch and his purse lifted by fast-talking con men. Nevertheless, "Glance" is regarded as a landmark play in the development of American theater (if not the American drama) for having introduced the character of Mose the Fireman, who struck such a chord with Bowery audiences, numerous subsequent vehicles were devised to extend his box office reach, making the "Mosaic" a sort of theatrical sub-genre.

    Company: Axis Company.
    Written by: Benjamin A. Baker.
    Directed by: Randy Sharp.
    Cast: Wren Arthur, Brian Barnhart, David Crabb, Joe Fuer, Laurie Kilmartin, Sue Ann Molinell, Edgar Oliver, Margo Passalaqua, Jim Sterling, Christopher Swift.

    Related links: Official site
    Axis Theater
    1 Sheridan Square near 7th Ave.
    May 29 - July 19, 2003

    The Axis Company's revival is being touted as the play's first revival since the Civil War, but there is a sense in which that is not completely true. "Glance," like every play play the company does, has been "Axis-ized", that is, produced according to the company's bizarre performance aesthetic based on director Randy Sharp's work with the mentally ill. Audience not familiar with the company's work will likely be confused by the sight of cast members wandering around stage, swatting imaginary flies, twitching, and, above all, cowering in expectation of some vague, unspecified menace, none of which is called for by the script. A couple of the cast members appear to work harder at reconciling the aimless insanity with the needs of playing their parts in the plot. Jim Sterling, as the big lug Mose engages us; Joe Fuer as his friend Harry Gordon brings some of the dash of the 19th century ham. But other than these, most of the cast appear to have graduated from the Bobcat Goldthwait School of Dramatic Art.

    As always at this theater, the set, costume and sound design are the most accessible elements on stage. If you are the sort of theater-goer to whom narrative flow is less important than brilliant design, then you will be comfortable with this production. That said, the play underneath retains its power to charm, and one has only to listen to the lines (which have been commendably unaltered) to get a snapshot of New York that has been all but completely forgotten. This by itself is enough to warrant a trip down to One Sheridan Square — notwithstanding the bughouse distractions.

    JULY 13, 2003

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