A desperate shift from childhood game to agonizing reality in ‘1-2-3 Manhunt’ at Off-Broadway’s Theater for the New City

It’s no longer 1979, but Alex – a gritty middle-aged New Yorker of Italian descent – can’t handle the changes and the vodka doesn’t help. Stumbling on a tenement rooftop on the Lower East Side, he remembers how it used to be in the good old days and rages over what it’s become, from the gentrification of his neighborhood and the City, to the failures of capitalism and US politics, to the decline of family and respect for elders. He’s not sure if life is even worth living anymore, as he totters on the edge. To jump or not to jump? Then Alec, a smart Chinese American teenager who plays baseball with Alex’s former coach at Holy Redeemer high school, appears and pulls him back from the brink. Or does he? Find out in 1-2-3 Manhunt, a powerful new work by Tony DiMurro, now playing at Theater for the New City.

Chris Paul Morales and Santo Fazio. Photo by Maria Baranova.

At first combative, the two strangers begin to talk and, despite their differences (and Alex’s racist name-calling), find common ground as they play a game of catch, down a bottle (clearly Alec’s first), and plot to make their anger known. It’s a shocking case of the older generation setting the worst possible example for the younger, repeating the sins of the father, and causing irreparable damage to both of their futures. When Millie and Frankie, two of Alex’s best friends since childhood, show up on the rooftop searching for him on behalf of his wife, they share memories of the past, try to talk (or bat) some sense into him, and do what they can to help the unlikely pair out of a desperate plot that’s gone terribly awry. Will it be enough to save them? Or will the titular game of hide-and-seek that they played as kids become a reality?

Directed with edge-of-your-seat tension by William Roudebush, the play mixes anger, hopelessness, and violence with dark laugh-out-loud humor and insights, all delivered by a strong and convincing cast, whose characters elicit sympathy despite their obvious flaws and fateful mistakes. Santo Fazio turns in a powerhouse performance as the frantic foul-mouthed Alex, capturing his pain and fury while spewing frenetic monologues, seething hatred, and traumatic revelations with the requisite emotion, physicality, and penetrating psychology, in a heavy New York accent. In his Off-Broadway debut, Chris Paul Morales as the young Alec is concerned and innocent, at first questioning Alex’s self-destructive venom, then, post-vodka, drunkenly buying into it and making disastrous choices. Supporting the lead actors are the ever-excellent two-time Emmy nominee Ilene Kristen as the tough-talking bat-wielding streetwise Millie, who also displays a maternal soft side, and Anthony Barile as the less rancorous Frankie. Both try their best to help the in-over-his-head Alec and their buddy Alex, out of their unwavering commitment to shared roots and lifelong friendship.

Santo Fazio, Ilene Kristen, and Anthony Barile. Photo by Maria Baranova.

A telling artistic design enhances the narrative, set on a graffitied and trash-covered roof (scenic design by Julie Melton DiMurro), with lighting indicative of the times of day (with Herrick Goldman serving as lighting consultant) and the sounds of city traffic below (sound design by Andy Evan Cohen). The adults’ appropriately shabby streetwear contrasts with Alec’s newer cleaner casual look – until he, too, becomes sullied by the devastating chain of events.

1-2-3 Manhunt is a show that packs a punch, with its spot-on writing, direction, and performances. It will keep you engrossed and leave you wondering.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 55 minutes, including an intermission.

1-2-3 Manhunt plays through Sunday, October 24, 2021, at The Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, NYC. For tickets, go online. All patrons must be fully vaccinated to attend the show and are required to provide proof; everyone must wear a face mask for entry into the theater and throughout the show. Net proceeds from the production will support Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New York City, the city’s largest youth mentoring organization.


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