Sometimes it sucks being a part of the invading hordes. That’s the thought that struck me after catching a production of Stoopdreamer, a new born-and-bred Brooklyn show (written by Pat Fenton, dir: Kira Simring) at The Cell (338 West 23rd Street). The show–a part of Origin’s 1st Irish 2015, New York’s annual Irish theater Festival–is set entirely in Farrell’s Bar & Grill, and is less a fully fleshed out play than a lyrical and meditative history-lesson-as-bar-tale. But it does a lot with what it’s got. Speaking as a relatively new arrival, one of those post-collegiate white kids from Somewhere Else, I appreciated the chance to pull up a stool and listen to a couple of the old guys (and gal) ramble.
Okay, sure, the only thing more tiresome than nostalgia is another person’s nostalgia, but when a place has been around for decades, nostalgia and history tend to meld, to intermingle, so that stories that begin with the much feared “In my day…” actually start to become interesting, like the scenes from a Scorsese movie that are set in the 50s. Stoopdreamer, at its best, evokes this sense of depth and place, to the point where one feels actual sympathetic regret for all that has been lost. This is no easy feat, especially when the play makes no bones about the fact that, most likely, you’re a big part of the reason why it’s gone.
Farrell’s is a real place in Windsor Terrace, the last holdout from the same bygone time that the play memorializes. I went to check it out the day after I saw the show. It’s fucking awesome but, if you couldn’t have guessed, not exactly Yelp friendly: “no atmosphere” says one prominent review, which is true if you think atmosphere comes from things like music, youth, bow-tie service, Edison bulbs, and panoptically agreed-upon liberal opinions. What you get instead is a median age of 58, predominantly male and cop, 32 ounce Styrofoam “containers,” bar t-shirts in Jets green or Giants blue, beautiful tin ceilings, a broken payphone in the back, and the always-amusing sound of balls being busted. When I went, I was struck by how well the actors and director got the tone and feel of the place just right, despite the limitations of The Cell’s set (cleverly, the lobby bar where you get your pre-show drinks is the set itself, with old timey photos and Farrell’s sign projected on the back wall). The regulars really have all grown up within a two-mile radius. They really do make fun of the 25-tap microbrew place across the street. Going to see Stoopdreamer is like posting up in the bar for an afternoon, only as scripted by the old guy scribbling in the corner, the one who always wanted to be Hemingway but had to settle for a squad car at Coney Island. No surprises, playwright Pat Fenton is a friend of Jimmy, the owner.
There’s a thin plot involving two of characters reconnecting, but the real work for the actors is selling the monologues that form the bulk of the play. Happily, they are more than up to the task. Jack O’Connell, Bill Cwikowski, and Robin Leslie Brown never bore when relating the years when there were so many pubs with their doors open that if you wanted to listen to a Dodgers game, all you had to do was walk around the block. While relating the destruction wrought to the hood by the Prospect Expressway, they add convincingly to the villainization of Robert Moses (see also: Bronx, The). What the play lacks in dramatic verve it makes up for with tone and substance, and actors fully committed to the poetics of lost time; when Brown’s character states, with sadness, that “It seems like you’re only young for such a short amount of time,” the first thing you think to yourself is, “Shit, she’s right.”
Like any talkative barmate’s long story about himself, the play does sag when things get a little too misty-eyed, but for anyone who has even a passing interest in the history of working class Brooklyn, for anyone who’s wanted to know more about the neighborhoods that they might have just recently found themselves in, I’d say sit down and listen for a while, either at the play or at the bar. Farrell’s, like most of Brooklyn, is a good place if you treat it right. In any case, you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Through Sunday, September 27, purchase tickets here