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On That Day in Amsterdam

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - August 11, 2022

Ahmad Maksoud and Glenn Morizio
Photo by Carol Rosegg
On That Day in Amsterdam by Clarence Coo, opening tonight in a Primary Stages production at 5E59 Theaters, is a tender tale of two ships that pass in the night, never to reconnect except in the slowly fading and mutable memory of one who cannot let go.

In this case, the "ships" are two young men in their early 20s. One is Sammy (Ahmad Maksoud), a Syrian refugee for whom Amsterdam is but a stopover, en route to his being smuggled into England and a life that will require him to stay out of reach of the ever-looming possibility of deportation. The other is Kevin (Glenn Morizio), the Filipino-American son of an undocumented mother but who himself had the good fortune of being born in the United States, granting him a freedom that eludes Sammy. For Kevin, who increasingly serves as our eyes and ears, Amsterdam is the last stop at the end of a college-break European adventure.

Sammy and Kevin meet at a party and wind up spending the night together, a hook-up for what seems to be a one-night stand. Unexpectedly, however, especially for Kevin, that night of casual sex turns into a dream-like day wandering through Amsterdam, the home of Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Anne Frank, all of whom put in fanciful appearances.

You could think of the 100-minute play as a variation on An Affair to Remember, the 1957 romantic film that starred Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, but without the Empire State Building as a touchstone promissory note. Without their realizing it, everything they do that day, from sharing a packet of fried potatoes to joining the tourists for museum visits, will be a gift Sammy and Kevin can cherish for the rest of their lives. This is especially true for Kevin, who only gradually grows to appreciate what a truly magical experience he is having. Throughout, the pair are beautifully captured in their sometimes casual, sometimes awkward, often genuinely affectionate interplay by Ahmad Maksoud and Glenn Morizio. The apparent trust the actors share is all the more noteworthy owing to the fact that Maksoud only recently took on the role of Sammy from another previously announced actor.

Directed with warmth and care by Zi Alikhan, the play's romantic tone is carried through in the multimedia staging (set by Jason Sherwood, projections by Nicholas Hussong, sound design by Fan Zhang, and lighting by Cha See) and through the use of an always-present scrim that itself lends an air of hazy intimacy. The excellent supporting cast (Brandon Mendez Homer, Elizabeth Ramos, and Jonathan Raviv) provide narration and commentary and take on the roles of, respectively, Rembrandt, Anne Frank, and Vincent van Gogh, as well as townspeople and tourists. In lesser hands, these structural elements could easily overwhelm the main story. But they do not, thanks to the gentle care with which they are employed. And even if On That Day in Amsterdam tells a tale old as time, it hits all the right chords for anyone who has a special place in their heart where they preserve and revisit their special memories.

On That Day in Amsterdam
Through September 4, 2022
Primary Stages
59E59 Theaters, Theater A, 59 East 59th Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: