Reviewed by Robert Liebowitz
Finally, finally, finally, there is some hope for the American Theater for the 21st Century, and his name is Mohammed Saad-Ali. Mr Ali is, and will be, a playwright, a force to be reckoned with.
His beautiful new play, “A Lonely Night in Coney Island”, has bite, wit, charm, real drama, and speaks to the issues of our time. In other words, it is must-see theater.
Presented as a staged reading for the ‘Spotlight-On’ Festival in the East Village, deftly directed by Jay Michaels, the play follows Omar Amari (well performed by Thamer Jendoubi) and his two wanna-be, semi-hoodlum friends, who are apparently killing another night smothered in boredom on the Boardwalk in Coney Island. Apparently…but Omar has some business he needs to attend to. Without giving away the plot, naturally, an easy night of teasing, reverie, and getting high gets a little complicated, and the trio get more than they bargained for, by far.
The play swiftly moves forward, the dialogue is cutting and triple-sharp, its street cred neatly tucked away in the playwright’s pocket (“You wanna blaze with those guys?”), rolling off his laptop with relative ease. As opposed to most new works, all of the dialogue happens in the here and now, right in front of you, in the actual moment you are witnessing it. This is, after all, the point, and what it’s all about, and it is refreshing to bear witness to a theatrical work that grabs you from jump street and doesn’t let go until the curtain.
Tip of the hat to the lead cast: the aforementioned Mr. Jendoubi lead the team with immense power, vacillating seamlessly between street punk and world-weary sage; Conor Mullen found the perfect blend of courage, discomfort, and pathos as the white boy wanting to be a thug; and Hector Canales giving us humor and counterpoint with ease. Backing them up were a group of artists worthy of our attention: Jim Kempner was joyous as a homeless kibbitzer; Mario Claudio and Mr. Ali himself as two actual thugs heaped in anger and regret, both playing with startling authenticity; Maritza Renae, as an abused girlfriend, was heart-wrenching when she inquired if she was still attractive even after the beating she received at her boyfriend’s hand; Thaissa Yumi and seasoned character actor, Ken Coughlin, as the good cop and the bad. Ms Yumi’s sharp tone and piercing stare made her a fine good cop but it was Coughlin’s growl and menacing authority that completed the picture as the really bad cop. Karina Tauber Gorodkin lent gravitas to the situation as a serious narrator. The starkly wondrous photos that accompanied each scene, which added an unexpected flavor of magic to an already magical evening.
We look forward to an actual production of this timely play, and more from the keyboard of Mr. Ali, an astute observer of our times, with plays that speak to everyone.