Signature Theatre in Arlington opens its 2022/23 with No Place to Go, an ode to the anxiety of the under-employed and unemployed.
No Place to Go, a hybrid of song and text by Brooklyn-based playwright and songwriter/musician Ethan Lipton, was commissioned by the Public Theater in Manhattan and premiered there in 2012. An autobiographical work, it is as much a reflection of the late aughts stock market and housing crisis, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, as it is of our current pandemic anxiety.
As Matthew Gardiner, artistic director at Signature as well as director of this production, shared in remarks after the second opening night premiere, “I read this play at the height of the pandemic, and the uncertainty at its heart was something I felt we all could relate to at this moment.”
While the play reflects the uncertainty of our times, Gardiner and the production do so with surety and style. The cast is led by veteran performer Bobby Smith, in his 28th production for Signature Theatre, and backed by an amazing musical trio, Tom Lagana on guitar, Grant Langford on tenor and soprano saxophone, and Ian M. Riggs doing quadruple duty as music director and arranger as well as playing the bass and guitar.
Riggs was also part of the original team who composed the music with Ethan Lipton, Eben Levy, and Vito Dieterle and, coincidently, during the pandemic moved to the DMV — great luck for the DC theater scene.
Smith works hard as George, a 50-year-old “permanent part-time information refiner” in Manhattan — at a company that has announced it is relocating to “Mars,” or at least out of the New York City area, in search of cost savings. With the play firmly set pre-pandemic, there is no mention of virtual options for employees, a small point, but one of several that do slightly date the play.
Even more so, the anxiety of a permanent part-time employee who has worked at this company for over a decade, while trying to be a playwright in NYC, is bittersweet. The play’s key question — whether he should relocate with the company, leave the city he loves — is compounded by a deeper one. At 50 years old, should he even keep stumbling toward his dream of being a playwright? Ultimately, Smith’s acting, framed in short monologues addressed to the audience, doesn’t quite achieve the depths called for by the play’s central questions.
What works — and really delivers — are the musical numbers and Smith’s song and dance interaction with the onstage trio.
The 11 songs—and the range of styles from jazz to cocktail crooner to blues and Woody Guthrie–style WPA folk — rise to the top of this often funny and whimsical production.
The standout on the musical trio is Grant Langford with his sax delving into emotional depths and shining through several of the numbers, notably, “An Only Man” and “The Mighty Mench.” The performance of this veteran, a former member of the United States Air Force Band Airman of Note, is all heart and skill — an artist at work. One hopes that Langford will have more ways to showcase his multiple talents in the future.
No Place to Go ends on an upbeat note with the rousing “Nothing But a Comeback.” The now unemployed George is determined to make it in New York City. Uncertainty is the only thing certain for George — as it is for so many of us artists, musicians, poets, and playwrights — so better to sing, better to perform, and go forth with our dreams.
The set by Paige Hathaway is the perfect man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit backdrop. The lighting design by Max Doolittle, which starts with the glare of fluorescent lights, soon switches up to evoke the moods of the musical pieces adding to the stylized atmosphere of the entire production.
Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission.
No Place to Go plays through October 16, 2022, at Signature Theatre’s
ARK Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue in Arlington, VA. For tickets ($40–$90), call (703) 820-9771 or purchase online. Information about ticket discounts is available here.
The program for No Place to Go is online here.
Closed captions are available for every show via the GalaPro app.
COVID Safety: Signature requires all attendees ages 6 and up (Signature does not admit children under 6) to wear a mask to attend all live public performances and events at indoor venues. Signature’s COVID safety plans can be found here.