World premiere One November Yankee, by its premise alone, is intriguing. Its art imitating life theme brings two pairs of siblings to life and juxtaposes them with the brother and sister of the main plot, making Joshua Ravetch's play an overall curiously positive experience...and it's not without several sprinklings of genuine humor and intelligence. On top of that, it has two exceedingly appealing stars, ageless Harry Hamlin and Loretta Swit, who have the chance to create three roles each. One November Yankee, now onstage at NoHo Arts, may not be the greatest play ever written, but certainly manages to entertain as well as provoke.
At the top we are introduced to artist Ralph and his sister, pr rep Maggie. Ralph has a curious exhibit opening this very night at the Museum of Modern Art. It's called Crumpled Plane, which represents the actual wreckage of a single engine airplane that had crashed five years earlier. Maggie has flown in dutifully but unwillingly for the event to meet the press, and we soon learn that the two are estranged and most of the time at odds with what Ralph's art represents. In Scene 2 Ravetch takes us back five years in time to New Hampshire and the actual crash of the plane on display. Margo and Harry have survived, at least the initial crash, and the as the scene plays out it is clear that the siblings were on their way to Florida for their father's second marriage. Harry is a novelist, Margo a librarian and the pilot, who beleaguered with marital problems had been too distracted to make a flight plan or... Whatever, Harry blames her for the crash. The tension between them is not unlike that of Maggie and Ralph, with Margo a more sympathetic sibling than unrelentingly domineering Maggie. Harry has a broken leg and with little hope of rescue efforts, things look grim for the two survivors.
In Act II, Scene I, five years later, two siblings Mia and Ronnie are hiking and come upon the crash site. Both are dealing differently with the loss of their brother Daniel, who had also died in a plane crash. As they rummage through debris and make some findings, they commiserate and manage to find some reconciliation and peace. Scene II takes us back to the museum and Ralph and Maggie celebrating Ralph's supposed victory with the press after the opening of his exhibit.
The acting from both Hamlin and Swit is first rate. They are equally successful in making all the characters distinct. For Hamlin, Ralph comes off the most complex. Slight gestures in behavior suggest that the artist may very well be gay, but that is not an issue. What is interesting and fun to watch is Hamlin's devilishly devious approach to him. For Swit, Maggie's feistiness and fearless control of the situation is perhaps her easiest role, but it is in Mia and even more so in Margo where she exposes a tenderness, a deeply caring quality that is totally captivating. Ravetch guides his two actors with a fluid pacing throughout. Dana Moran Williams' set, Luke Moyer's lighting and Kate Bergh's costumes lend the play efficient and expert service.
Thinking about the various scenes of One November Yankee and attempting to put them together into a neat package seems near to impossible. Like the characters themselves, it's all very complicated...intelligent, but complicated. No, Ravetch has not tied everything up that neatly, but...that's life. Survival is not pretty and we, like Maggie and Ralph, Margo and Harry and Mia and Ronnie must deal with the knocks. Yes, some art is indeed trash and some does mirror life quite admirably. But, first and foremost, what it comes down to is the people, remembering how they treat each other. That's what gives survival its true value.
4 out of 5 stars