Around The Town

One with the Current 

By: Alix Cohen

September 20, 2023: January 4, 2021. Cliff is an everyman from South Carolina – husband, father, hardware store owner. He and Ray (who works for Tyson) have been buddies since high school. They’re community-minded conservatives: a person who is averse to change and holds traditional values. (Oxford English dictionary) “Hung out, met our future wives, had our families. We even both became volunteer firemen, so, yeah, you can say we know each other pretty well. I never had a brother, but he ended up fittin’ the bill pretty good, I gotta’ say. Yeah.” Ray’s got a time share in the Shenandoah Valley where the men fish. They talk about their families, “older men problems…” We see only the solo storyteller who narrates and plays himself back and forth in time.

Daniel Damiano

By: Alix Cohen

September 20, 2023: January 4, 2021. Cliff is an everyman from South Carolina – husband, father, hardware store owner. He and Ray (who works for Tyson) have been buddies since high school. They’re community-minded conservatives: a person who is averse to change and holds traditional values. (Oxford English dictionary) “Hung out, met our future wives, had our families. We even both became volunteer firemen, so, yeah, you can say we know each other pretty well. I never had a brother, but he ended up fittin’ the bill pretty good, I gotta’ say. Yeah.” Ray’s got a time share in the Shenandoah Valley where the men fish. They talk about their families, “older men problems…” We see only the solo storyteller who narrates and plays himself back and forth in time.

A radio announcer tells us Nancy Pelosi is elected, that COVID toll is over 25,000 cases, that William Barr quits, that  the Electoral College verifies Joe Biden’s win. Intermittent newscasts alert us to timing.

Now Cliff’s fishing with his seven year-old son, just as his dad did with him at that age. “Your granddad told me about how fish travel. He said, y’know, they ain’t stupid. But they also get their strength from the others. In other words, they can’t survive alone. So they go with the flow…He said humans don’t have to do it, but they often do… if you ever have one a’ your friends try’n get you to do somethin’ that everyone else seems to be doin’, think on it. ‘Cause ya’ can…you ain’t no fish. You can swim against the current.” (I miss not knowing the incident that provoked this line of advice.)

Sent up north to college, Cliff’s daughter Melissa tells them she’s not coming home for Christmas because of the pandemic. Her dad assumes “it’s one of her little stances, like she posts.” He believes that vaccinations are another form of government control. “If she wants to think that shit, let her, but come be with your family…” When he and wife Jackie sat through a high school debate where the girl stood for anti-abortion, he bit his tongue and praised her efforts. “Who knows what she tells her little friends about us now?” Business is bad. Cliff wants to leave the store to his son who’s still captivated by the place. “My dad left me dick on a stick.” Will there be anything left of the business the way things are going?… 

“I appreciate you guys are doin’ what we’re doin,’” he says to the guys. “You asked where we were goin’ and I told ya. We went up on the fourth and came back on the sixth. I went fishin’, that’s what I did.”

An excerpt from Trump’s speech to the crowd on January 6 is heard. (Damiani effectively edited a recording so that we can hear slogan call-outs like “U! S! A!” and “Stop the Steal” otherwise buried by general mayhem.) It’s unnerving. We know just where Cliff and Ray were. The protagonist is slouched in an armchair watching TV. “House Democrats are inching toward steps to remove President Trump from power, after he incited his supporters to attack the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday…” comes the announcement. Cliff talks about the state of things.

According to law enforcement, 10,000 people rallied outside the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Prosecutors charged more than 1,000 for various crimes including breaking and entering, assault and seditious conspiracy. You might say rioters tried to keep Trump in power by preventing a joint session of Congress from counting Electoral College votes. You might say people were just angry. The New York Timesidentified mob enemies as “Democrats and weak Republicans, Communists and Satanists.”

Cliff recalls what occurred, what he and Ray did and didn’t do before making a stunned exit. A great many citizens were suckered in by frustration and rhetoric. “We were just American people tired and pissed off of the fact that we felt our election was stolen,” one anonymous rioter told NBC News. The economy, the pandemic, and feeling politically impotent all contributed – contribute – this is not past tense. Educated men and women became suspect as did anyone with money. Distinction between a greedy “them” and the working man “us” remains incendiary. 

Observing the experience of one person rather than reading statistics is always more impactful. During a talkback, Damiano tells us he was inspired by someone on 60 Minutes “who went down the rabbit hole of QAnon and is now filled with remorse.” Cliff suffers. There are consequences. Does he suddenly see the world the way his kids do? Unlikely. But something is learned applying the rule of fish…

None of this minimizes the horror of the event. An Oath Keeper with a car of explosives and Proud Boys like Zachery Johnson accused of having taken a sledgehammer and pepper spray to the riot, lead headlines. One woman, Dawn Bancroft, sent the following via cell phone from inside the rotunda: “We were looking for Nancy (Pelosi) to shoot her in the friggin’ brain, but we didn’t find her.” This is not a story about them. Around 485 individuals have received criminal sentences thus far. (Rioter quotes from an article by Ryan J. Reilly and Dan Barry/Mike McIntire/Matthew Rosenberg of The New York Times )

Playwright Daniel Damiano (a Democrat) has created a whole person, a relatable life in progress. Moving back and forth in time is cohesive except for a single reference to President Obama which seems stuck in/off sequence. While I understand a point was being made, there might be a better way to get it across. Specific colloquials and syntax add immeasurably.

Actor Daniel Damiano is believable from his first words. Bearing, accent, and attitude ring true. From bombastic to tender, it’s as if we observe Cliff think and feel in real time. Despite predominantly Right-wing views, the character evokes sympathy.

Newscaster Voices: Judy Alvarez, Daniel Damiano, Brooke Turner

With minimal change of stage location and mime, Director Leslie Kincaid Burby has given us a man whose every gesture and expression from tongue in cheek to craning his head to yell at his wife upstairs is credible and motivated. Invisible characters might just as well be there for the integrity of focus. Pacing couldn’t be better.

Sound design is somewhat confusing.

Trailer for One with the Current on YouTube.

Photos by Gerry Goodstein

One with the Current
Written and Performed by Daniel Damiano
Directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby

Through October 8, 2023.  GO.

36th Street Studio Theatre    
312 West 36th Street