BY YANNIC RACK | The plot is simple enough: seven New Yorkers get stuck on the C train. Six of them have somewhere to be, but they all have the same concern:
“How many minutes left, how many moments lost?”
On the New York City subway system, who hasn’t asked themselves this question? That line, from the opening number of “Held Momentarily,” sets an appropriate tone of urgency and frustration. Over the next hour, the script, lyrics and music (all by the incredibly talented and promising Oliver Houser, with additional material by James Zebooker) — along with spot-on acting from a talented cast — manage to avoid making it all look too cliché (after all, this is not the most original situation). There is a twist, though: a pregnant woman is about to give birth. Sam, played with brute force and emotion by Yael Rizowy, is on her way to the hospital because her abusive boyfriend is too cheap to spring for a cab.
When the subway car gets stuck, the group is understandably annoyed. But that quickly gives way to panic when Sam’s water breaks and she goes into labor. The remaining 40 minutes are musical comedy at its best, as seven strangers “realize it’s not just the train that’s stuck,” as the play’s summary puts it.
‘Held Momentarily’ has catchy music and an unexpected moral
Houser plays Cal, the very busy, very impatient businessman, who has no time for hyperventilating pregnant women. Zebooker is Greg, the endearing and quirky nerd who, earlier, found himself on an OKCupid date with Geena Quintos’ health-obsessed, driven and independent Mindy (the two end up on the train together by chance after Mindy storms off). We learn this through one of several well-placed flashbacks, which manage to construct deep and profound character stories without straying too far from the present action.
HELD MOMENTARILY A FringeNYC Presentation
Written by Oliver Houser
Additional Material by James Zebooker
Directed by Hunter Bird
Music Director, Jeremy Robin Lyons
Sat., Aug. 23 at 3 p.m.
At the Sheen Center – The Loretto
18 Bleecker St. (at Elizabeth St.)
For tickets ($18), purchase at FringeNYC.org | By Smartphone: FringeOnTheFly.com | By credit card at the Box Office | By cash at FringeCentral (114 Norfolk St., btw. Rivington & Delancey Sts.)
Mindy, who “knows exactly where she’s going” (a nod to the play’s overall theme) left Greg stranded, not impressed by his laissez-faire lifestyle and selective honesty on his dating profile. He, on the other hand, is sure “the Internet brought real romance.”
Elliot Greer’s Liam adds another layer to the story. He’s a med student under mounting pressure from his dad (also played by Houser), college professor (Jordan Barrow) and supervising doctor (Zebooker) who must overcome his insecurities and rise to the occasion to deliver the baby. Greer, outstanding among a very good (and very young) cast, portrays the familiar struggle of finding oneself with heart-felt emotion.
Barrow is funny as Stan, who’s dealing with his own set of problems — namely, a cheating boyfriend. Many of the actors, including Houser, seem to know each other from LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts, and their chemistry shows on stage.
Andrea Nevil, who filled in for India Carney in the role of Lilith, gave the evening’s best vocal performance, as a homeless woman who suddenly appears from under a rug. Wonderfully weird, she prompts Greg to admit that “subway performers are getting REALLY good.” Not taken seriously at first by the others, Lilith eventually inspires the group to recognize the importance of demonstrating compassion in their daily lives.
The music is upbeat and catchy. Hunter Bird’s direction is smooth and balanced, the sound and lighting are unobtrusive and work very well to set the pace for the back and forth of present story and flashbacks. The choreography by Katie Palmer makes very clever use of the subway setting, through routines that incorporate MetroCards and manage to bring the shaking subway to life on a static stage.
But the most appealing thing about “Held Momentarily” is the well-observed inside jokes, which include jabs at the MTA (fearing that Sam will die in childbirth, Lilith exclaims, “Oh no, she is going to become a statistic!”), the mayor (“Bill de Blasio was on board last week, he closed the income gap!”), the social consciousness (the homeless woman as the most generous and compassionate of the group) and Internet dating (which seems almost nostalgic in the age of Tinder).
“If you see something, say something,” Lilith sings at the end, the only one left in the subway after everyone else has left. She, in turn, leaves us with not only a spin on the MTA motto, but also a profound and admittedly unexpected moral.