There is a certain humor in The Commons that will appeal to many people. It is that type of mean spirited, uncomfortable humor that borders on bullying, but is okay since it is on stage because we know the characters aren’t real. Usually played out in family serio-comedies where the various family members can’t escape, like Thanksgiving or a will reading. In case of The Commons, it is four roommates who agree to spend a year together in the form of a New York lease.
The four roommates are older lease holder Robyn (Ben Newman), combustible exotic Janira (Olivia Khoshatefeh), mean girl Dee (Julia Greer) and loser Cliff (Ben Katz) - who is pathetic because he tries to be a nice guy. The relationship dynamics are developed and then hardened with the repetition of the dreaded roommate meeting. The meetings usually come down to this; something has bothered Dee and she will explain it. Then she will explain it four more times, as if to a slow child in a remedial class. Cliff will apologize and try to do better, but Dee has to keep complaining about it long after everyone has agreed with her.
|l-r: Ben Katz, Ben Newman, Julia Greer in THE COMMONS at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg|
There is no making Dee happy. She complains that she lives in the loudest room but won’t change despite everyone’s offer. Dee can’t stand dirty dishes, even after someone else has done them. Dee values honesty, but actively makes fun of people behind their back. Cliff’s greatest character flaw is that he is a male and is trying to be pleasant. It is not clear if Dee hates all men, or just the two that live in the apartment with her, but she hates them both with a gusto unbounded. But then again, she’s not wild about Janira either.
I am not sure if The Commons has a moral, besides don’t live in a communal situation. There was no character growth, Dee was just as mean as she moved out as she was during the majority of the show, and the other characters were still just as confused by it. The one person Dee did get along with was Cliff’s ex-girlfriend Anna (Olivia Abiassi), a presence that was introduced and swept away too quickly.
Playwright Lily Akerman has captured the dynamic of a horrible living situation, but I am not sure that the story tells us much. Director Emma Miller moves the pace along well, The Commons doesn’t feel rushed, and it does cover the year in 100 minutes. The sniping was too mean spirited for me to enjoy, but it will hit the spot for many audience members.
Playwright: Lily Akerman | Director: Emma Miller | Cast: Ben Newman, Olivia Khoshatefeh, Julia Greer, Ban Katz, Olivia Abiassi