Theater Review: ‘One November Yankee’

Familial ties that bind
December 17, 2019 Updated: December 20, 2019
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NEW YORK—The old saying that blood is thicker than water is a point made quite clear in Joshua Ravetch’s “One November Yankee.” This two-person play, starring Harry Hamlin and Stefanie Powers as three separate pairs of siblings, is being presented by the Delaware Theatre Company at 59E59 Theaters.

As the show begins, visual artist Ralph (Hamlin) is preparing for the opening of his latest installation, titled “Crumpled Plane,” at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Nervously watching Ralph put the finishing touches on the exhibition is his sister Maggie (Powers), a MOMA staff member.

Maggie is the frequent object of media mention, thanks in no small part to her ever-changing marital status. She’s commissioned her brother’s latest work for the museum, but now fears the piece will be an abject failure—something that would cost her not only her job but also her position in New York society. Maggie is quite protective of her carefully cultivated public image.

Ralph’s work is meant to show the collapse of civilization. The idea for the title and the specific image he’s using in the exhibition come from the disappearance of a light plane in the mountains of New Hampshire five years earlier.

The story then shifts to the immediate aftermath of said crash. Pilot Margo (Powers) and her brother, the sole passenger, Harry (Hamlin), attempt to assess their situation while also determining exactly why they crashed and just whose fault it may have been. The pair wonders if they will still be able to make it to their father’s wedding in time. This is where they were heading when the plane went down.

The final brother and sister pair are Ronnie (Hamlin) and Mia (Powers), who stumble across the wreckage of Margo’s plane while hiking in the area several years after the crash. The sight of the wrecked hulk triggers memories of a family tragedy in Ronnie and Mia’s past, an event neither has fully come to terms with.

Damaged Siblings

These interlocking stories make clear that each person in their respective pair is emotionally damaged in some way. They each depend on the support of their sibling to help them deal with the turmoil in their own life, and thus hopefully be able to move forward.

Yet for all the bickering that occurs in each story, the underlying respect the siblings have for one another is also evident.

Despite the serious undertones, each scene is punctuated with enough humor to make the characters recognizable and relatable.

Hamlin and Powers play off each other best as their Maggie and Ralph characters. Each uses their position to mask their own inner insecurities—a trait present in all three stories—while making clear how just much each has riding on the success of Ralph’s installation.

Powers cuts a particularly caustic figure as Maggie. She uses puns to make biting comments. Yet she struggles to understand the installations Ralph and his competitors have created over the years. For example, while Ralph may see an exhibit consisting of thousands of ping-pong balls with only one colored differently than the rest as a statement of the individual against society, Maggie just sees a large collection of small spheres.

In the episode of the plane crash, Hamlin does a very nice job channeling Woody Allen for the character of Harry, a nebbish Jewish writer.

Ravetch, who also expertly handles the directing chores, works closely with Hamlin and Powers to nicely balance the scenes. The action stays focused on the relationships and on the larger issues of life, death, and success. He also imbues the proceedings with mystery as the audience members wait to see exactly what will happen next.

The set by Dana Moran Williams is especially striking. The wrecked plane is an impressive sight greeting the audience. The costumes by Kate Bergh are quite good, especially the outfits Powers wears as Maggie and Margo.

An intriguing piece, “One November Yankee” (the title taken from the registration numbers on the side of the crumpled plane) examines family connections, especially how members depend on each other when things look darkest, whether they realize it or not.

‘One November Yankee’
59E59 Theaters
59 E. 59th St.
New York
Tickets: 646-892-7999 or 59E59.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission)
Closes: Dec. 29

Judd Hollander is a reviewer for Stagebuzz.com and a member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle.