Ted Greenberg Photo credit: Hunter Canning
It’s December 18, 1987, and Ted Greenberg, the writer of
the solo show Ace in which he plays himself, is working as a New
York cab driver. (You remember cab drivers? They were those brash fellows –
sometimes even gals – who ruled the New York streets before the arrival of all
those polite Uber people.)
At any rate, as depicted in this frisky and entertaining
tale, it’s an exciting day for Greenberg. He’s out to break a garage fleet
record by hauling 50 fares in one shift; he’s almost halfway there and it’s not
even noon. But he’s got another thing on his mind as well. Seems five years
earlier Greenberg almost graduated Harvard, the one thing holding his diploma
back was the absence of his long-due paper on Edmund Spenser, the Elizabethan
poet, and his masterwork The Faerie Queene. Now Greenberg has been
informed that his “degree pending” status and all his credits will be wiped out
if the paper is not mailed by the end of this very day – December 18, 1987.
Meanwhile, the news radio station – prerecorded for the
show – is periodically blasting headlines into the car, and one of particular
interest is that Wall Street guy Ivan Boesky is about to be jail-sentenced for
insider trading. This is also of some interest to Greenberg. He is not your
run-of-the-mill cab driver. His father happens to be Alan “Ace” Greenberg, who
was for many years the esteemed head of Bear Stearns, one of Wall Street’s
leading firms until it crashed in the subprime mortgage collapse.
And in a sort of stream-of-consciousness, Greenberg keeps
recalling incidents with his dad, and we get inklings of how Greenberg himself
was shaped, a sort of rebellious independent spirit, with a checkered career
that has included stock trading, Emmy Award-winning television writing for Late
Night with David Letterman, stand-up comedy and cab-driving.
One thing Greenberg tells us he couldn’t do was work for
his father: “His rule. I got to find my own way.”
But as the play unfolds, it ultimately turns out to be a
surprisingly moving tribute to his father, as reflected in the title, Ace, the
nickname that this strong-willed individual gave himself in college.
And the events of the day also make for a lively
narrative. It’s even somewhat suspenseful. Will Greenberg get his Spenser paper
written and mailed? Does Boesky’s predicament affect his father? Will the
garage fleet record be broken? Greenberg moves with high energy through it all,
portraying the various passengers who step into his cab – at one point Boesky
turns out to be one -- as well as the people who move though his memory. The
latter include a friendly doorman at Greenberg’s childhood apartment building,
Greenberg himself as a teenager and younger, and most of all, Ace, a father
affectionately but firmly doling out life lessons to his son.
We learn a lot about Ace, a colorful character, who
started as a lowly trainee at the firm he ultimately ran. He also made his mark
as a bridge player, philanthropist and amateur magician.
Greenberg is not a transformative actor, like such solo
show artists as Anne Deavere Smith or Sarah Jones. As a performer, Greenberg
remains mainly himself, and the physical attributes he takes on in his
evocations of the people who come into his tale – the passengers, the cops who
hand him traffic tickets, and even his father -- are not all that distinctively
drawn. What pulls you in is the aptness of the writing, and the joyous energy
Greenberg exudes in his storytelling, directed with panache and impressive
imagination by Elizabeth Margid. As he furiously whirls a chair around on
stage, we can almost see the younger Greenberg dashing about in his cab,
looking for riders.
An array of ultra-precise shifts in lighting and brisk
sound design add to the show’s smart theatricality. Guy de Lancey is the
scenic/lighting designer, and Luqman Brown did the sound design. Becky
Bodurtha’s costuming for Greenberg easily reads a New York cabbie of the 1980s.
If toward the close of the play, Greenberg’s apparent
openness about his life, his comedy chops and exuberance haven’t won you over,
his final bit is almost certain to do it. In a tribute to his father’s interest
in magic, Greenberg performs some great sleight-of-hand with playing cards.
It’s a closing moment that not only further validates the show’s title, but
brilliantly symbolizes the father-son connection that is at the heart of
Off-Broadway solo show
Playing at The Marjorie S. Deane Theater
10 West 64th Street
Playing until November 5