By: Darryl Reilly
“What is the situation?” “It’s not good…I have nothing happy to report.” So, parries a cryptic Trumpian tycoon and his harried female assistant in playwright Bina Sharif’s thoughtfully hilarious Life is a One-Act Play. Ms. Sharif plays the assistant and her husband Kevin Mitchell Martin plays the tycoon. They are the Lunt and Fontanne of the East Village having performed together numerous times, and this is Sharif’s 30th play in 30 years.
The chilling and amusing “The Situation” takes place in the odious Smith’s Manhattan penthouse apartment, where Lily’s job to is tend to his whims and endure his wrath. After she continually counters his optimistic pronouncements with reality, he brusquely fires her. “I am a truthteller. The world works on big fat lies; truth is a devil.” Thus is Lily’s revelation as she heads to an uncertain future.
“I need coffee, but I can’t leave the stage!” declares Sal in Life is a One-Act Play’s second sequence, “The Jungle,” where meta flourishes abound. Set in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Sal is in lockdown with his roommate Karima in their “shitty apartment.” They amuse themselves by writing and a performing a new one-act play daily, “The Situation” we are told was one of their lesser efforts. However, Life is a One-Act Play is a rewarding work.
Echoing the comic sensibilities of Eugène Ionesco and Edward Albee, Sharif employs the trusty device of two people in a room for optimum effect. Her bouncy dialogue is laced with poignancy, often wicked humor and piercing observations of the current scene. There is a funny riff on Uber and George Floyd is discussed. The characters have autobiographical elements, such as Karima being from Pakistan, adding depth and authenticity to the piece, particularly when she puts on a head covering and recites a Muslim prayer. Philosophy is imparted; we’re told that life is like a one-act play, each comes to an end with no return after intermission.
Whether ferociously declaiming as a tiger about life being like the jungle, putting on a mask to go out for coffee, or tenderly encouraging Karima, Mr. Martin is dynamic. Martin’s vivid characterizations are enabled by his charisma, stage presence and emphatic vocal emotiveness. With her enduring sunny girlishness and compelling speech pattern, Sharif is enchanting as the two downtrodden idealists she has created. Her performance is simultaneously daffy and wistful.
Vivladi’s The Four Seasons is heard throughout this smart presentation. Sharif’s scenic design of a few ideal furnishings differentiates the contained playing area and allows for swift transitions. Her precise staging is enhanced by lighting designer Alexander Bartenieff’s wonderous contributions. The stage is often bathed in textured hues and monologues are delivered accompanied by dreamy spotlighting.
Life is a One-Act Play is an inspiring entertainment and is performed at the historic Theater for the New City, where Bina Sharif has long been associated.
Life is a One-Act Play (through February 12, 2023)
Theater for the New City, 155 1st Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running time: 70 minutes without an intermission