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Ted Greenberg                     Photo credit: Hunter Canning

                              By Ron Cohen

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 Greenberg’s story

Off-Broadway solo show

Playing at The Marjorie S. Deane Theater
10 West 64th Street

Playing until November 5