Dr Ride’s American Beach House

Matilda (Erin Markey) and Harriet (Kristen Sieh) embrace on the rooftop in the Ars Nova production of Liza Birkenmeier’s Dr. Ride’s American Beach House at Greenwich House. Original photo by Ben Arons Photography.
Was life really like this in the American Midwest back in the eighties?

By Andrew Andrews

After an evening of waiting tables, Harriet and Matilda crawl out the top window of a St. Louis house museum onto the roof.

Drinking beer, spying on neighbors with binoculars, and throwing humorous, backhanded insults at each other, the long-time friends are here to listen to radio broadcasts about Dr. Sally Ride’s first flight on Space Shuttle Challenger the next morning.

Occasionally interrupted by the museum’s simple-minded caretaker, Norma, Harriet and Matilda reminisce about their promising past, speculating about its deterioration into their dead-end present.

Friction builds when Matilda tells Harriet she’s invited a friend to join them, and when the butch Meg appears, the ensuing sexual tension complicates the interaction.

Set in 1983, Dr. Ride’s American Beach House takes us back to the era of boom boxes, the original Mom jeans, and suppressed sexual identity across the country.

The casting, acting, directing and costumes for this play couldn’t be better, with the cast not only delivering their lines with the utmost realism, but truly looking the part of Midwestern adults in the early 1980s, each in their own way pigeonholing themselves through their appearance as well as their actions.

The set, which looks like it was somehow sliced off the top of a row of two story small town buildings, had me feeling almost like I was watching the action from my bedroom window.

The plot and dialogue of the script are both finely-tuned, careful to maintain the optimum level of humor across the constant, deprecating interaction between the two leads.

At times during the performance the story felt a smidgen too slow, but in retrospect, it might have been just right to convey the killing of time and uncertainty of what to say in the situation.

My other greatest criticisms of this performance are still extremely minor: the sound of the broadcast from the portable stereo was too low most of the time to make out the announcements; and, during a scene near the climax of the story, the spotlights cast on Meg created undesirable shadows on the wall behind her, ruining the illusion that the solid, deep blue walls represented the darkening night sky.

The seating in this house is unnecessarily too crowded, with armless chairs held together by zip-ties, creating something of an uncomfortable environment depending on the sizes of you and the patrons beside you. Although I did notice a balcony and a raised row in the back, most of the audience is on the same level, making it difficult to see all of the action around the heads of the people in front of you. It’s far from unbearable, however, and such tiny distractions are hardly enough to ruin the experience, given the overall quality of the production.

5

Andrew Andrews attended Dr Ride’s American Beach House at Ars Nova at Greenwich House in New York on Friday, November 1, 2019 @ 8:00pm to write this review.

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