Narrow View of Broad Channel, A Wave Review
A Narrow View of Broad Channel
By Brian Magoolaghan
If you've heard that the one-man play "Broad Channel" exploits and insults the island community, you've only heard a small part of the story; if you've heard that the play provides lots of genuine insight into life in the island community, you heard wrong.
"Broad Channel" is billed as "a dark comic tour of an unearthly island in Queens." Though he plays many characters, friends and family alike, co-writer and actor Doc Dougherty tells his story through Eddie Doc, a 19-year-old growing up, as he did, in the Channel.
Eddie Doc is the younger Doc Dougherty (because the two are interchangeable, further reference to the actor and character will be 'Doc').
Doc sets the scene early, with a handful of one-liners.
"The women in Broad Channel have more children than teeth," is the most memorable one, and, "there's one church and nine bars."
The play is performed in a bungalow-sized New York City theatre. The stage is an un-elevated platform, 195 square feet in area. The only props used in the play are three chairs: a desk chair, and two different style bar stools. The theater seats an audience of 40.
Perhaps the truest comments, which capture the town's essence, are, "sometimes the bay comes over us like where not even here," and when Doc says the town has "no phonies, no rats." There is a ring of truth when one of the characters looks out of a bar on Cross Bay Boulevard and laments the traffic says, "Every stupid f-k is on his way to the beach."
You get a sense of the close-knit community when Doc explains how the neighbors pull together and support each other during troubled times, and again when he tells about how he could walk into a Channel bar, and the men inside would treat them as if he were their own, maybe even buy him a hardboiled egg, and find him some salt.
Unfortunately Doc, and Yale educated writer Anna Theresa Cascio, deviate from these tasty tellings, and focus on themes that have been told much better by other storytellers.
Dougherty describes a "scumbag priest" from St. Virgilius, who menaces his family because his younger brother owes the church $50 (he collected fundraiser money and didn't turn it in). The priest insults the patriarch of the family, who intern gets drunk and takes his frustration out on his sons. Sinister priests, a subject writers are becoming more comfortable with, were done better by Frank McCourt in his books Angela's Ashes and 'Tis. "Broad Channel" being a relatively short, little more than an hour, play, Doc either didn't have or make time to convince the audience of why this priest was motivated to be so mean.
Another familiar theme that was repeated in "Broad Channel," the teen-aged-son versus the abusive, alcoholic father. In Doc's story, he loses the 'I'm going to stand up to this SOB' battle, and suffers a gash over his eye.
One repetitive theme was the mention of offbeat characters, used for comedic value.
So-and-so "Ratface" who is another character, is based on a real-life Ratface, but the list of these guys went on and on like MacArthur Park. There's so-and-so "Mother--ker" who repeats the expletive with every other word. The long list of characters is reminiscent of the scene in Goodfellas, based on Henry Hill's book, where Hill, played by Ray Liotta, introduces this-one-and-that-one and "Johnny Two-Times-who got his name because he always said everything..."
The subject that received altogether too much attention was the trade of pitcher Tom Seaver from the New York Mets to the Cincinnati Reds. Apparently, when that happened back in 1977, it was the only thing Broad Channel residents talked about. If there was a talking seagull in the play his dialogue would have been, "arh, arh, Tom Seaver, traded, what are they, arh, thinking, arh!"
The Tom Terrific baseball drama is important to the Doc character, as it provides "escape" while Doc toils in Broad Channel, trying to keep on the straight and narrow, so he can get past his probation at the sanitation department. It also provides the spark, though only somewhat convincingly, for Doc to eventually leave the Channel.
The choice of music for the show's soundtrack was varied, and worked well at times. As the almost thirty audience members came in to take their seats, Irish folk influenced music was playing. The chorus was, "dirty old town." The play itself began with the rather nice, perhaps unfittingly pleasant Beatles tune, In My Life. The more romantic moments are told with the help from Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra. Doc danced around the stage to It's Not Unusual, and clearly the audience was with him. The late 1970's emergence of hard rock was well represented with music from Led Zeppelin; Kasmir, their eight-minute-plus opus about a road that never seems to end-which could symbolize Doc's journey out of the Channel, played as the audience exited.
A few minutes before "Broad Channel" got started, Doc expressed his thoughts on the play. "It's about me and my family, so if anyone is to be offended it's them," he said. Doc said he has heard complaints from some of his former neighbors-his question to them was 'have you seen [the play]?' More often, he said, their answer was 'no.'
In the play, Doc calls 9 Road "trashy" and says some of its residents owned vicious German Shepherds. "To guard what?" Doc asks.
Another source of friction between Doc and his old neighborhood is racism. He has not shied away from criticizing those he feels are bigoted, including his father, who in the play makes disparaging remarks about minorities in Rockaway and Broad Channel.
If you've never seen Doc around town you may have seen him on One Life to Live, Law & Order, New York Undercover, or NYPD Blue. He has also appeared in several other theatre productions.
"Broad Channel" plays through May 4 at Manhattan's Phil Bosakowski Theatre located at 354 West 45 Street (between 8 and 9 Avenues), 2 floor. Tickets are available through Ticket Central. Those interested may call 212-279-4200, Monday through Friday, noon to 8 p.m.