February 16, 1999


'American Passenger': Dillinger as a Guide to Crime and Folly


Pigeons, metaphorical as well as unseen but actual, hold central roles in "American Passenger," a well-cast, well-acted and promising play by Theron Albis.

Besides the American passenger pigeon, a poster bird for destruction and extinction, there are the stool pigeon, whose removal seems to be the stock in trade of one character, and the homing pigeons, caged in a coop on the symbolically wire-caged Brooklyn rooftop where death and salvation occur one night in 1984.

Although he doesn't put in an appearance until the very end of the first act, the prescient guide to the lethal personal and societal consequences of youthful folly and criminality in this cautionary tale is none other than that Depression-era jail-busting bad boy John Dillinger (1902-1934). Besides twirling a cane and dancing to the strains of Eddie Cantor's rendition of "Ma, He's Makin' Eyes at Me," the dapper Dillinger (Brent Black), is the deus ex machine gun who stands between a young, drug-addicted woman from Louisiana and her early exit from life.

She is Delphie (Kristen Lee Kelly), who comes to the rooftop with her irresponsible loser of a boyfriend, Albert (Rob King), an addict who is thousands of dollars in debt to a hulking menace named Cleve (Evan Dexter Parke). Though Cleve professes to be a reasonable man, his patience has worn thin, and his traveling companions, the tough-talking, black-clad Edie (Jennifer Regan), and the generally silent but seething Pinkface (Torquil Campbell), so named for an extensive birthmark, seem disposed toward violence.

Albert's hope lies in his brother, the suave-looking, tuxedo-clad, trench-coated Tom the Baker (Danny Mastrogiorgio), whose pastime revolves around pigeons with wings and whose business apparently concerns pigeons with wagging tongues.

Fed up with Albert, Tom is not really disposed to be his brother's keeper. Albert, he observes, is in danger of becoming a thing of the past, like the American passenger pigeon. And as Delphie drifts in and out of sleep and dreams -- she suffers from a form of narcolepsy -- Albis's drama cuts back and forth between events on the roof on a single evening.

Although Delphie and Albert never manage to evoke sufficient sympathy to complement the intelligence of "American Passenger" with emotion, the playwright's characters in general constitute a sharply delineated gallery, eloquent in ways that range from smoothly sardonic prose to raging rap.

Produced and directed by Stephan Golux in the Kraine Theater, at 85 East Fourth Street, just off Second Avenue, in the East Village, "American Passenger" displays handsomely the talents of all concerned with it.

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