Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Theater Review: A Complex and Memorable Long Journey “On That Day in Amsterdam”

On That Day in Amsterdam (c) Carol Rosegg

Theater Review: On That Day in Amsterdam 
At 59E59, presented by Primary Stages 

Premise: That day referenced in the title of Clarence Coo’s play, “On That Day in Amsterdam,” is mostly a day in January 2015 when, after meeting at a gay club in the titular city the night before, tourists Sammy (Ahmad Maksoud) and Kevin (Glenn Morizio) awkwardly wake up together, practically strangers. This is the last day in Amsterdam for both and while Kevin, a Filipino-American budding-writer, can’t leave fast enough, Sammy, who is Pakistani with a flair for photography, wants to spend their last day together being tourists and getting to know each other. When Kevin can’t make up any more excuses not to hang out with Sammy, they do spend that day together. While it seems uneventful at first, the day does have a “Before Midnight” aspect to it as strangers bond during what might be a turning point in both their lives. As it happens, in the future, Kevin desperately wants to write about that day in Amsterdam, even though his memory has become hazy. But he does remember its beats, including visits to historical locations involving Rembrandt (Jonathan Raviv), Vincent Van Gogh (Brandon Mendez Homer) and Anne Frank (Elizabeth Ramos), whose stories of their own art and loves seem to parallel what Sammy and Kevin are facing in their current crossroads to the future. 

My Take: Coo’s play has had quite the rocky road to its eventual premiere this month. In 2019, the play was already in rehearsals when the whole production was postponed for artistic reasons. Three years and a pandemic later, “Amsterdam,” as presented by Primary Stages, has finally made it to opening night. And while I’m not sure what has changed since 2019 (the production now has a new director and a new cast), the play, while not wholly successful, is always intriguing, impressively ambitious and rather sweet. Under the direction of Zi Alikhan, who left his unique stamp on the equally ambitious “Snow in Midsummer” earlier this summer, the play is always on the move, with a few pieces of furniture configured differently in each scene to create something new. He also handles the romance at the center with great delicacy, even when the situations veer toward the twee rather than the profound. The interludes of Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank at first seem intrusive to the main story, but they start to fall into place in Coo’s overall theme of artists making decisions on any given day that will dictate their fate. This may be way too much for such a delicate play to handle, especially as Coo repeats the title of his play to illuminate so many different days that it becomes tiresome. I wish he would have dropped most of the narration and just let the characters grow on stage. Despite this, the play is quite an achievement in scope and intimacy that leaves a lot up to the audience to decipher. 

On That Day in Amsterdam (c) Carol Rosegg

VIP: Ahmad Maksoud. Although Glenn Morizio is equally impressive as Kevin, Maksoud as Sammy has the more interesting backstory that is not as neatly laid out as Kevin’s. Maksoud, who was so good in the musical “The Visitor” last year at the Public, has to play both Sammy’s apprehension to his fate when he leaves Amsterdam as well as finding excitement with his unexpected connection to Kevin. Maksoud is a last-minute replacement to the cast, but you would never know it from his chemistry with Morizio and his heartbreaking portrayal of a man whose uncertain future totally colors his actions “on that day in Amsterdam.”

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