By: Darryl Reilly
“Another Happy Day!” So, declares the cheery Barbara to her scholar soulmate Patrick at the start of author Bina Sharif’s comedic, thoughtful and playfully defiant one-act play, Days And Nights. This couple are penniless hat-wearing tramps living in an abandoned Manhattan building in the present; the play is partly Samuel Beckett and mostly Bina Sharif. Taking place over one day, it depicts the venerable Ms. Sharif’s perpetual theme of the artist versus a materialistic society, during three mirthful scenes and an eerie epilogue, lasting for one existential hour.
“Another Happy Day!” is the metaphorical refrain expressing the tramps’ joy of life despite the hardships they endure. Every morning, as with Eugene O’Neill’s pipe dreams in The Iceman Cometh, and Edward Albee’s imaginary son in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the palpable motif of “Another Happy Day!” arrives to inspire the tramps to soldier on amidst the city’s harshness. There is unsettling drama when “Another Happy Day!” like Godot does not arrive. Along the way, there are Sharif’s swirling reveries, idiosyncratic observations and piercing insights.
A $30 jar of Italian fig jam is lavishly extolled with the conclusion that one could buy that same item in Chinatown for ninety-nine cents. Though not having money for the fare, Patrick and Barbara board a New York City bus anyway. They are confident that the passengers will chip in and pay for them to get the driver to keep going. That happens, but Barbara and Patrick are not grateful, they have disdain for “these miserable people who are still smiling while reading free newspapers.” Sitting in a park they, reflect, ruminate and observe; Shakespeare and Baudelaire are eloquently discussed, and attending the elitist opera is hilariously rejected in a wild musical bit. Back in their squat with no gas to boil water, they imagine drinking delicious coffee via glorious descriptive speeches. After a sleepless night, there is no happiness in the morning.
The most marginalized Actors in New York, Bina Sharif and Kevin Mitchell Martin have been Acting, Writing, Directing and Producing since 1980. They have done 35 plays together.
Thus, tartly imparts Sharif in the show’s program with her striking handwritten print, of her and her co-star husband’s Kevin Mitchell Martin’s biographies; they play Barbara and Patrick. Over decades of performing in Sharif’s works, each has developed a persona which vividly suits her material. With her beaming stage presence, enduring girlishness and captivating South Asian accent, Sharif conveys humor, seriousness and depth during her sparkling characterization of Barbara. Mr. Martin’s soaring and rumbling voice which emphasizes key words with rhythmic verve, and supreme physical theatricality, create the often-pompous Patrick for the stage with vibrance and a touch of malevolence. In Days And Nights, Sharif and Martin at times marvelously recall George Burns and Gracie Allen’s celebrated wise guy and Dumb Dora routine. At the performance under review, they briefly broke up with laughter as they riotously got lost during an exchange, inciting audience merriment as they soon got back on track. Sharif’s writing distinctively simulates stream of consciousness, this detour exhibited actual stream of consciousness.
Sharif also directed Day And Nights. Her physical staging of the two tramps’ journeys on the contained playing area which is set with a red divan, a bench, a chair and desk, is artfully simple, organic and picturesque. Lighting designer Alexander Bartenieff’s lustrous hues imbue the presentation with a luminous painterly sheen; enveloping darkness intrudes for visual and psychological effect.
Day And Nights succeeds as a vehicle for the honed artistry of Bina Sharif and Kevin Mitchell Martin, and as a poignant entertainment.
Sharif’s handwritten Days And Night program could be interpreted as a wistful and barbed autumnal response to her lack of support and recognition by the New York City theater community. She has not received honorary accolades from the Obies or other such august institutional bodies. The New York Times, The New Yorker and American Theatre have not profiled her and do not review her shows. The cultural establishment has been proven to be often derelict.
Sharif was born in Pakistan, and studied to be a doctor in the U.S. She then became part of the firmament of the Downtown New York City arts scene in the 1980’s as a performer and writer. She has had numerous productions in the East Village, nationally and internationally of her full-length, full-cast plays and monologues; these embody counterculture concerns while demonstrating a unique command of dramatic writing which evokes the 20th century’s major playwrights. In the last several years, she has annually presented a self-written spare two-character one-act play at her artistic home, that monumental bastion of artistic independence, Theater for The New City. Like Rembrandt’s latter revelatory self-portraits, Sharif has offered majestic works portraying a maverick in winter.
Days And Nights (through January 28, 2024)
Theater For the New City, 155 First Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running time: 60 minutes with no intermission