Off-Broadway Review

N/A: Politics, Power and Pragmatism

If you were discouraged by the recent disastrous Presidential debate performances by both main party candidates, you might seek hope and inspiration from another, sharper example of political theater. Mario Correa’s slim and powerful new play N/A dramatizes the conflict between Nancy Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the House, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. These are the only two characters, they are never referred to directly by name (neither are two off-stage presidents), and their battle encapsulates the struggle within the Democratic party over the past few years. In an author’s note, Correa states that his characters’ ideas and ideals “are bigger than any one person (or two).” Hence the initials rather than their full names.

N/A Play
Holland Taylor and Ana Villafane in N/A.
Credit: Daniel Rader

Running at a brisk 80 minutes, staged with deft economy and pace by Diane Paulus, N/A is a rare work examining the political issues that effect us in the here and now. The British seem to better at this than American dramatists with many more plays dealing with immediate real-life issues cropping up on the West End than counterparts on or Off-Broadway, unless they are imported from overseas. The last American overtly political play I can remember is Anne Washburn’s Shipwreck: A History of 2017, presented as an audio play during the COVID pandemic.

Holland Taylor (N) and Ana Villafane (A) are dressed by Myung Hee Cho to resemble their characters, but never stoop to caricature or imitation, delivering passionate, forthright performances, articulating their divergent viewpoints with precision and care.

N/A Play
Ana Villafane and Holland Taylor in N/A.
Credit: Daniel Rader

At the start of the play, A has just unexpectedly won her primary in what was thought to be a safe district in Queens and the Bronx, defeating party regular Joseph Crawley (Full disclosure: Crawley was my Congressperson and Ocasio-Cortez now is). In her first meeting with the new candidate and presumptive winner (she’s a Democrat in Queens, after all), N, then House Minority Leader, advises A to be pragmatic and work for realistic goals within a sharply divided Congress. A pushes back, pointing out that she represents a growing movement of underrepresented minorities demanding immediate significant change on a host of issues including health care, immigration, climate change, and social justice.

N/A Play
Ana Villafane in N/A.
Credit: Daniel Rader

The fractious dynamic of experienced wisdom versus youthful enthusiasm is established with wit and humor. Taylor is especially dry at delivering subtle put-downs to Villafane’s overly idealistic ambitions. (There’s a particularly funny moment when Taylor as A transforms from tough legislator to doting grandma over the phone, explaining the significance of Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie, and then snaps back to ruthless negotiator without missing a beat.) Villafane is equally adept at conveying A’s fervent belief in the power of government to affect her constituents’ lives and to change the system. The pair spar engagingly over Pelosi’s run for Speakership, the proposed elimination of the ICE immigration service, environmental legislation, white privilege, the role of social media in political life, and finally their respective futures in the party and the country. They bond in mutual disgust and terror over the insurrectionist revolt of Jan. 6, 2021 and finally reach a place of mutual respect, but still remain wary of the other.

The animated video projections by Lisa Renkel of Possible and Mextky Couzin’s dynamic lighting provide an exciting backdrop against Myung Hee Cho’s simple, effective set of lucite cubes and desks.

At one point, Taylor uses the N/A of the title to mean non-applicable on an opinion survey form. This N/A offers lots of opinion and nourishing food for thought. It’s definitely worth a visit.

June 27—Aug. 4. Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center (not a Lincoln Center Theater production), 150 W. 65th St., NYC. Running time: 80 mins. with no intermission.

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