Found an Affordable Apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan without
by Deirdre Donovan
Gross' new one-man play How I Found an Affordable Apartment on the Upper
West Side of Manhattan without Really Trying is a delightful journey
through the mind and heart of its author. Written and performed by Gross, and
presented as part of the United Solo Festival 2019, it is an autobiographical
play that is as delicious as a fresh bagel with a schmear of cream cheese.
by Miriam Liba Gross (Yes, she is the playwright’s daughter!) with Leslie
(Hoban) Blake as creative consultant, it served as the perfect antidote for theatergoers
who have grown weary of watching ponderous plays that stretch on forever.
on Gross’ book of the same title, it invites theatergoers to time-travel with
the actor-playwright, on the cusp of his 30th birthday, and how he
actually found living quarters in the Big Apple that fit his budget. Nostalgia
rules here. Gross rewinds the decades back to pre-Giuliani Manhattan when
crime was still up, Blockbuster video stores were still blinking their garish
neon lights in the neighborhood, and reasonably priced apartments were rare as
the promotional blurb in the program describes his monologue as a “Spalding
Gray-meets-Jerry Seinfeld take on life in little old New York in the 1990s,” I
would add that some of his jokes have a Neil Simon-esque flavor. Take
his opening line: “I was born on a small island off the coast of New Jersey,
more commonly known as Manhattan.” Indeed, Simon himself would approve.
true raconteur, Gross neatly encapsulates his family’s migration out of
Manhattan, to Riverdale, and then on to Bergen County, New Jersey. He
good-naturedly adds that his childhood and young adulthood passed quite happily
in the Garden State, thank you. But his story gains more edge when Gross
confides to the audience that on the cusp of his 30th birthday, he
decided to move out of his parents’ home in Englewood, New Jersey, and find an affordable
apartment in Manhattan.
painted a portrait of Gotham that smacked of reality, providing you not only go
with its socio-political backdrop but the hot spots of the day. Or as Gross
puts it: “It was February 1990 when Clinton was Hell’s Kitchen, Dumbo was an
elephant, and CBGB was a club not a franchise.”
didn’t have immediate success. But he did learn that no two rentals advertised
were alike. A sampling of his search? The first apartment he described
bordered on the absurd. It was being leased by a “good doctor” for $750 on
West 96th Street. The problem, however, was that Gross wouldn’t be
able to set foot in it until after the doctor finished seeing patients at 8pm
on weekdays. Although the doctor pointed out that his examining table would
make a good bed and had romantic possibilities (Don’t ask!), Gross passed on
the bargain, even though the doctor told him he could occupy his office on
weekends round the clock.
the third listing on West 96th Street proved to be just right.
Although I refuse to be a spoiler, Gross leveled with the audience at this
point in the narrative, noting that the immediate appearance of an attractive
young woman in the building’s elevator enroute to the laundry room helped him
to sign the lease. He also confessed that after moving in, he unabashedly
bought 6 months supply of laundry detergent and fabric softener. Yes, his
mother would be proud.
anecdote seeds the next. And you eventually get a snapshot of Gross as a young
professional in real-estate who moonlighted as theater critic. While the
narrative starts with his tenacious search for a Manhattan apartment, it segues
to include his fierce determination to keep his 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
(aka as Kid) in Manhattan. His tales about his Cutlass, in fact, gets some of
the best laughs in the show. And after he became engaged to his sweetheart (and
eventual wife) Margie, he shared that his car prompted a jealous outburst from
her one day: “You care about that car more than you car about me.” He
reassured her that he cared just as much about her as he cared about the
Cutlass. According to Gross, his fiancée didn’t talk to him for weeks.
ever there was a production to which the “less is more” principle applied, How
to Find an Affordable Apartment would be it. The Studio Theatres’
intimate stage was swept bare, except for a stool and a few scattered chairs
for our narrator to sit upon as he spun his narrative. And the lights were
just enough to illuminate Gross’ animated facial expressions and expressive
body language throughout.
is truly astonishing about his show is that Gross performed it cold with no
preview performances at all. Yet he delivered it with warmth, energy, and
is best-known of course as the creator and co-host of “Two on the Aisle” that
can be viewed on Manhattan Neighborhood Network and YouTube. He also is the
former theater and film critic for “The Palisades Papers” in New Jersey and has
written for various other publications. Indeed, you can only admire Gross’
gutsiness and nerve for crossing over to the other side of the footlights.
Gross’ foray into acting at the United Solo Festival 2019 will lead to other
theatrical projects is anybody’s guess. But whatever the sequel might be, one
can only wish him well.
performance only, October 10th, 2019
Row, at the Studio Theatre
West 42nd. Street, Manhattan
more information on upcoming shows in the festival, visit www.unitedsolo.org.