In a rare interview, racketeer Meyer Lansky described the fire: “And then the most horrible thing started to happen. The girls crowded to the windows and to escape from the inferno coming up behind them they started jumping from the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth floors. They just jumped. And of course they all died as they hit the street… most of the dead, a hundred and forty six, were young girls, although some men workers also died.”
Lansky was, of course, talking about the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which lit the skies just two weeks before his family arrived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan from Grodno. Read today, Lansky’s words from the early ’70s almost foreshadow others jumping from NYC windows far higher in lower Manhattan.
This commonality, between 9/11 and 1911 echoes in the very first moments when Rolf Saxon intones the names of Triangle deaths at a modern memorial of an event intimately associated with the US labor movement. For a nanosecond, if you’re a tiny bit more cynical than I, you might suspect a gimmick. Get over it. Triangle, which just opened at the Lucie Stern Theatre, embraces our distant and immediate past, creating glimmers of a future, and doing things that other musicals just don’t.
Like the very successful North Pool before it, Triangle was first developed in the Theatreworks New Works Festival. With a killer cast, excellent stage direction by Meredith McDonough, and a lush far-reaching score by Curtis Moore, this multilayered work will grab your heart in unanticipated ways, and leave you pondering the great intelligence of this piece.
Most startling here is the music.
Most startling here is the music. Songs start in one place, advance the plot, develop the characters, leaving you and them in different places. This happens so thoughtfully that it may be the smartest score I’ve heard in a long time, alternately rich and more sinuous melodies over unexpected harmonies. This feels a score written by a playwright – obviating the need to punch it up further with cosmetic choreography or irrelevant staging.
Connections between 9/11 and 1911 disasters are interwoven as actors in one thread of the story appear again in the other. Zachary Prince, as both Ben and Vincenzo, straddles both worlds, as does Megan McGinnis, playing Jenni and Sarah. We see story lines evolve, equally riddled with impossibility and opportunity and characters seek connection. Ordinarily this would come off as incredibly forced, but McGinnis and Prince are such masters of their craft that this device gently links the two points in time, reminding us how the dead are always part of our ever evolving future. We sees these stories through the eyes Brian, capably played by Ross Lekites, a slightly wet-behind-the-ears biochemist whose new 9th floor lab brings him into the past, only to make him whole.
Emerging from a miasma of pain, grief, dream, and connection, Triangle’s gentle take on this material will stay with you long after the final curtain. Catch this TheatreWorks production before it closes on August 2nd.