Rick Holmes, Jordan Lage,
Meredith Forlenza, Kristen Bush, Laura Kai Chen
By Ron Cohen
Both the haves and the have-nots get their knocks in Anthony Giardina’s Dan Cody’s Yacht, a relentless examination of the crossroads of education and affluence.
serious and pertinent theme, and Giardina, a well-practiced playwright (The
City of Conversation is among his other titles), is obviously passionate
about it, but his play sometimes seems more thesis than drama.
posits two neighboring towns in the Boston area, impoverished Patchett, with
its rundown schools, and well-to-do Stillwell, with its well-funded and
superbly operated halls of learning. A proposal is coming before the citizenry
to combine the two school districts. It’s a matter of deep importance for Cara
Russo, who teaches high school in Stillwell but lives in Patchett. Should the
districts merge, it means that Cara’s daughter, Angela, a talented,
poetry-writing teen, will have the future-assuring opportunity to attend
O’Neill, a private equity executive living in Stillwell and a single father
whose son attends the high school there, the proposed merger is anathema. It
will send a lot of kids to a place they don’t have to ability to appreciate, he
argues, while lowering the school’s standards.
Rick Holmes and
Cara first meet when Kevin comes to Cara’s classroom to discuss a failing grade
given his son Conor’s paper on The Great Gatsby, a book which Conor
didn’t bother to read. (The play’s title comes from F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s seminal novel. Dan Cody is a character in Gatsby’s past who
mentored the young man on how to climb the social ladder with ill-gotten
Cara argue about the proposed merger, and touched by her situation, Kevin
offers the teacher another solution to her problem. He invites her to join a
private investment club he runs with a few rich friends, offering the chance to
grow her money enough to allow her to move into Stillwell. She joins the fund,
and as the school merger fails, Cara’s funds keep growing enough to plan a move
to Stillwell. But then her account suffers a deep monthly drop, and frightened,
Cara drops out of the investment club and abandons her plan to change
residence. She also rejects a proposal by Kevin to put her funds into a more
secure but secretive and obviously shady investment, which would be outside the
club’s purview. She asks Kevin if he is simply trying to prove that she is
“corruptible,” like he is.
all this, we get to hear the scorn of Kevin, a self-made man, for the poor
folks of Patchett and the rich types in Stillwell. “I was hungry,” he says,
explaining his attainment of wealth. “Forgive me, I don’t drive around the
streets of your town and sense deep hunger coming from those kids. All I see is
hoodies and devices.”
As for the
parents who can afford to send their kids to the top colleges, Kevin – in
trying to talk Cara into his questionable proposal – offers this assessment: 99
percent of them have “gamed the system in their own way. Genetics. Inheritance.
Good zip codes. The ability to pay to artificially induce higher SAT scores…All
those trust funders who have never had to worry about their kid’s futures.”
himself is obsessed with idea of Conor getting into a top university. He
virtually rhapsodizes about Harvard.
For her part,
Cara has to face her daughter’s fears about moving into the Stillwell enclave
of the rich, a place where she will be ignored or looked down upon. Cara’s also
confronted with the unhappiness of her best friend Cathy from Patchett, another
single mother, who worries that the move would end their friendship, they won’t
meet any more at the supermarket. “You’ll do all your shopping at Whole Foods,”
occasionally softens the schematics of his plotting with humor, a couple of
emotional scenes between parents and offspring, and the uncertain layers of the
relationship between Cara and Kevin. We’re told early on that Kevin is gay.
Thus, the possibility of a romance between Cara and Kevin is ruled out. Or is
managed to tell each other everything, have we, Cara?” Kevin asks as the play
moves toward its end. The last-minute ambiguity is a welcome addition to the
texture of the play.
proceedings have been directed with admirable efficiency by Doug Hughes on a
good-looking array of sets by John Lee Beatty – the classroom, Cara’s neat but
plain kitchen, Kevin’s leather-rich living room, an upscale restaurant, other
locales -- moving smoothly into place on a revolving stage.
parameters of the narrative, the cast offers a gallery of sturdy portrayals.
Rick Holmes is appropriately loutish as Kevin, and his concern for his son’s
education shows through mainly as a matter of self-pride. Kristen Bush’s Cara
leaves no doubt as to the sincerity of her feelings for her daughter, while
tempted to improve their situation.
Rick Holmes and Casey Whyland photos by Joan Marcus
and John Kroft are affecting as the children, respectively of Cara and Kevin.
Roxanna Hope Radja imbues Cara’s friend Cathy with some likeable downscale
niceness, while Jordan Lage, Meredith Forlenza and Laura Kai Chen offer all the
superciliousness you can want as a trio of Kevin’s rich friends.
tracking of the importance of privilege in getting a good education, or at
least going through the motions of one at a top university to acquire even more
privilege, is certainly of import, but it sometimes seem as if Dan Cody’s
Yacht is like cruising with a dance band that knows only one song. They
play it well, but you still may long for an additional melody or two.
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center
131 West 55th
Playing until July 1