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1-2-3 Manhunt

Theatre Review by James Wilson - October 11, 2021

Santo Fazio, Chris Paul Morales, Ilene Kristen,
and Anthony Barile

Photo by Maria Baranova
Tony DiMurro's 1-2-3 Manhunt, set on the rooftop of a Lower East Side tenement building, initially calls to mind seedy crime dramas of the 1970s. Julie Melton DiMurro's detailed scenic design and Mark Marcante's realistic construction transport audience members to a grimy and gritty New York in which sex workers, drug dealers, and working-class residents lived and worked side by side. Adding to the neo-noirish effect, the back wall of the stage is painted with a dark blue and black wash, capturing a silhouetted cityscape once known for its water towers and electrical sheds.

When an enraged man wielding a bottle of vodka emerges from the early-morning shadows shouting, "1-2-3 manhunt!", it soon becomes clear that we are not in a romanticized, pre-gentrified New York, but in the present, nearly-post-pandemic Lower East Side. Alex (in an impassioned performance by Santo Fazio) curses at the surrounding neighborhoods that are no longer the places he once knew. There are, he screams, no Italians living in Little Italy, no artists in SoHo, and even the Meatpacking District, once the domain of trans people, has been defiled with the establishment of expensive boutiques. The rooftops may not have changed, but to Alex, the streets below have been transformed by red-state transients, Chinese businessmen, and people who can afford to shop at Whole Foods.

The situation is enough to make Alex want to throw himself off the roof, which he contemplates doing until a young man previously hiding in the crevices pulls him off the ledge. Alex's savior, coincidentally named Alec (performed with movingly confused innocence by Chris Paul Morales), is Chinese American, and as a target of blame for the spread of COVID-19, he has also become disillusioned with the city's reputation for acceptance and social progress. Fueled by vodka and the articulation of perceived political, religious, and familial outrages, the first act ends with the two men making a plan to wreak minor havoc on the city.

The second act takes place the following afternoon, and Alex is asleep on the roof. He is aroused by two friends, Millie (a suitably tough and no-nonsense Ilene Kristen) and Frankie (portrayed as a charming grifter by Anthony Barile), who have been sent on a manhunt of sorts by Alex's wife. (The play's title refers to a children's game of hide-and-seek in which a heroic player can free those who have been sought and caught.) As his friends coax him to go home, Alex reveals the devastating family secrets that have brought him to the rooftop's edge. When Alec comes back, having committed a terrible act of violence, Alex, who is responsible for the crime, is given the chance to show compassion and heroically save this trapped individual.

1-2-3 Manhunt is simultaneously overwritten and underdeveloped. Act one is essentially an hour-long harangue about all that is wrong with the United States in 2021. People are likely to agree with the points about Trumpism, out-of-control capitalism, and religious hypocrisy, but the litany of complaints, no matter how passionately presented, becomes tiresome and repetitive. Except for some shared connections with Alex's and Alec's Catholic high school and allusions to family betrayals, there is very little character exploration.

The shorter second act is much more successful because the characters' actions are rooted in personal histories and conflicts. Still, the playwright could deepen the characters' relationships. For instance, there is an indication that Alex and Millie were once romantically involved, but the background isn't clear. And except for learning that Frankie ingeniously scams the government, we know little about how him and why he is there.

Under William Roudebush's direction, the cast finds moments of gentle humanity amidst the play's overriding sense of anger and disappointment. In addition to the excellent scenic design, Herrick Goldman's lighting and especially Andy Evan Cohen's sound design contribute to the charged atmosphere.

The program also lists a special-effects designer, and I found myself waiting for a moment of surprise and wonderment. As far as I could tell, none ever arrived. Alas, New York City in its more sanitized form has seemingly lost its ability to shock and astonish. And that's a crime.

1-2-3 Manhunt
Through October 24, 2021
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets, New York City
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