This review of Claude Solnik's The Fare at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by Claude Solnik
Directed by Scott David Reeves
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
The Fare is Claude Solnik's latest play being produced at Theater For The New City. Claude is a prolific playwright who is unafraid to dive into touchy subjects. The Fare is an interesting play and I enjoyed it, but it does have room for improvement. The story leaves little to the imagination and while the dialogue is generally realistic, there are some rough moments. It's direct and punchy, but unfortunately, it fails to deliver a coherent message. It is a fast-paced drama about a banker and a cabbie that gives the audience a chance to contemplate how some Manhattanites might relate to one another in a difficult circumstance.
The play itself revolves around the conflict between a Pakistani cab driver (Omar, played by Hemang Sharma) and a New York banker (Rich, played by Scott Reeves). We come to learn that neither of the characters is perfect and that while both of them tell the same story to the police and to the audience, they each frame themselves as the victim. After a disagreement regarding the cost of a cab ride after Rich's late night of drinking at a charity event, Omar locks the cab doors on him. In response, Rich pulls out a pen knife. The knife cuts Omar when he reaches through to the back of the cab and somehow Rich runs off leaving the pen knife behind. Rich says injuring Omar was an accident while Omar says it was malicious intent. While this does provide for the drama of the play, there are some inconsistencies that make it questionable. How did Omar's hand end up in the back seat? What is the deal with this fare and how come it is not paid? Now, it may be easy to say "well, that's the point of the play," but yes and no. The banker had the cabbie stop at a deli/convenience store and he could've gone to an ATM if he didn't have any cash to pay for the cab ride. Otherwise, he could have just paid by credit card. Regardless of these details, you may be entertained by the circumstances that envelop the two characters after this confrontation.
The real strength of the plot lies in Rich's fall from grace and subsequent legal battle to reclaim his life. He has a revelation that he may not be leading the life he wants to lead after being fired for the cab confrontation and subsequently filed lawsuits. His friend, Larry the Lawyer (Scott Zimmerman), helps to get his deferred bonus back from his former employer and to fight the criminal charges filed by the District Attorney on behalf of the cabbie. The whole of the banker's life and circumstances feel pretty well-researched. The banker and his wife, Claire (Sarah Sanders) are both high performers who struggle to cope with the potential of not being able to work after the negative press from the cab confrontation affects both their lives and their social circles. They also come to terms with some of the factors that have plagued their relationship over the years. For example, why wasn't she at the charity social event with her husband?
Omar, the Pakistani cabbie, is the other key character. He is pretty much a non-factor during the first act. However, he speaks in asides here and there about how tough it is to be a cabbie in New York. This isn't such a bad thing, but the out-of-place commentary is inserted and presented in an awkward manner. At some point, Omar comes to Rich's door to serve him with papers initiating a civil lawsuit (another unrealistic fact since the party to a lawsuit in New York State is not permitted to serve process - it must be a Process Server or a non-party 18 years of age or older) and then Rich meets with him regularly in a random park at his own insistence. The conversations between these two are interesting and well-thought out despite the truly ridiculous and unrealistic circumstances. The dialogue does raise some serious questions about respecting each other, and yet also sometimes feels like a completely misguided view of what a Pakistani person might feel living in New York City. For example, do all Pakistani's think they are being associated with terrorists especially in New York City, which is fairly liberal? In some ways this over-simplification of characters allows us to address the issue at hand: the perception and social classes of the two characters. However, the play's characters are all very simple and while this allowed for the intended dialogue to take place, it kept the story going in circles toward the end until Sarah Sander's Claire ended it emphatically.
Far and away the acting carried the play, and while they all did a decent job, Scott Reeves as Rich and Hemang Sharma as Omar were stalwarts that displayed their talent by effectively delivering controversial dialogue. I think that without the strong acting, we would have stopped to think more about the strange circumstances of the plot. I felt like Sarah Sanders as Claire started out a little stiff. Without her settling down, I think the play would've suffered even more from the lack of cohesive direction toward the end. There were a lot of issues trying to be addressed by the plot at the same time, and she did a good job of pulling that all together with decisive monologue.
Ultimately, I think this play would have a lot of appeal to young people as it is relevant. However, it relies heavily on current events. While it addresses important subjects such as immigration, class, and relationships, it stated the obvious so much that it could star in a commercial as Captain Obvious. I think that presenting the same idea in a more subtle manner and with a single thesis would allow the play to develop in a manner that impressed upon us a particular idea rather than confronting us with a series of disjointed ideas. At times, I was uncomfortable and that was good, but often, it seemed a little overdone especially with Rich choosing to meet with Omar in the park. It doesn't make sense for either character to want to meet regularly. At least most of the jokes were pretty funny. With a little more development and patience, this same story could look slightly different and be able to communicate a clearer message.