Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Hack License: Beautiful on the Inside and on the Outside and on the Inside too
Play Review by Emily Pineau
"The world’s in a mess and I want romance," the character Maryanne Hobson says to herself while driving her taxi and thinking about life. On Sunday April 14th, I had the pleasure of seeing Dan Sklar’s comedy, Hack License, preformed at the Actors Studio of Newburyport. This play takes place in New York City and revolves around the taxi driver, Maryanne Hobson, and the various interesting characters that she drives around.
The taxicab that the play centers around is simple, but it fits in very well with the surroundings. Also, the qualities of Charles Burchfield’s paintings, an artist that is one of Maryanne’s obsessions, can be seen in the set’s design of New York City. Overall, the set has a very primitive feel to it, which is a perfect fit for the playwright’s style as a writer and artist.
Maryanne likes to keep track of things, drive around in her taxi, and tell everyone everything about herself. In fact, her character is so out there that it is impossible not to like her. All Maryanne wants is to find a sweet, loving boy that thinks she is beautiful inside and out, and who paints like Charles Burchfield. The fact that Maryanne is looking for someone with such a specific qualification like his painting style is very humorous, and adds depth to her character and the plot. One would think that Maryanne would be forever alone, because she is limiting herself to someone that may not exist, or someone that she may never meet.
Maryanne’s first fare is a woman named Harriet, who is irritable and late for a meeting. The audience is instantly laughing when they hear familiar lines like, "Do something about this traffic!" and "Start the meeting without me, you don’t need me. But don’t talk about anything until I get there." People have heard these types of conversations in one form or another through work, or just when they are out in the world. This scene shows that in life people are always so hung up on getting somewhere as fast as possible. When someone is stuck in traffic, instead of being hung up on this concept, they should make the most out of things slowing down.
One of the funniest scenes in the play is when Tom and Nancy, an arguing couple, are going back and forth on whether or not to return the Walt Whitman letters that they stole. Tom is telling Maryanne to step on it, and to take them to Grand Central Station, while Nancy is telling Maryanne to take them back to 75th street. Maryanne’s facial expressions are priceless, because she is so excited to "step on it", because no one has told her to do this before. She is also confused and overwhelmed because she is being given two completely different directions at once. Maryanne ends up pulling over and breaking up their argument. Tom and Nancy take an oath on Maryanne’s hack license that they will let Maryanne decide what they will do about the situation they are in. Maryanne takes this oath very seriously, and the whole situation is so ridiculous and humorous. When Maryanne finally hears the story, it is revealed that Tom’s grandmother stored these letters in her attic, and when a housepainter asked her if he could have them, she gave them to him and he then sold them to an autograph shop. Tom feels as though he is entitled to these letters because he thinks his grandmother should have given them to him instead of a stranger. After telling the story, Tom and Nancy fight again, and Nancy tells Tom that he cares more about the letter than he does about her. Tom says this is not true, and he proposes to her. The fact that Tom and Nancy go from one extreme emotion to the other makes the audience crack up, and sit on the edge of their seats. Maryanne marries the couple, while using her hack license to do so.
The scene that I found to be the most intense and emotional is when Maryanne thinks that Alice Jones, an economics professor, is her mother. The moment that Maryanne looks at Alice in her cab she says that she looks really familiar. Maryanne instantly looks troubled as she searches Alice’s face in the rear view mirror. Suddenly, as Maryanne and Alice are talking about the United Nations, Maryanne calls Alice "Momma". Alice is extremely confused, and tells Maryanne that she is mistaken. Maryanne insists that Alice is her mother though, and that she left her and her eight sisters behind. Alice suggests that they stop for coffee and talk, and tells Maryanne to keep the meter running. "That meter is like our lives, keep it running," Alice says to Maryanne before they walk into the coffee shop. When they are in the coffee shop Alice talks to her as though she is her mother because she tells her that she wants her to own her own taxi. "I want you to be financially and mentally independent," Alice lectures her. Maryanne tells Alice that she sleeps in the Planetarium, that all she wants is to be loved, and how she knows the note, that Alice left years ago, by heart. At the end of the scene Alice tells Maryanne that she wishes that she really was her mother, and that she’d never leave her. "Maryanne, do you want me to be your mother?" Alice asks her. "What?" Maryanne is confused. "I’ll be your mother if you want me to be," Alice says to her as they are standing close together. This conversation is so powerful because Alice wants to care for Maryanne, and it is up to the audience to decide whether or not Alice is actually Maryanne’s mother. When this scene ends, and transitions to the next, that actress playing Maryanne’s character takes a few extra seconds to break out of this strong emotion.
At the end of act II, scene III, Maryanne meets Nick Hart. Nick crashes into the taxi with his bicycle because the taxi stops short. The whole situation is so dramatic, sudden, and loud that it makes the audience burst out in laughter. When Maryanne meets Nick, and apologizes for what happened, she immediately asks him if he paints like Charles Burchfield. He does not answer her, though because he is confused by the random nature of her question, and is too distracted about his broken bicycle. During the next two scenes Maryanne and Nick fill out an accident report together, which Maryanne uses in order to get to know Nick better. She asks him if he paints like Charles Burchfield, and he is in shock because he does in fact paint like him. Maryanne and Nick then look into each other’s eyes and fall in love. During this scene it is also revealed that the Nick is that housepainter that sold Walt Whitman’s letters to the autograph shop. I really like how events from the beginning of the play come full circle and link to the end.
Dan Sklar’s play is very thought provoking and is filled with dangerous situations, lost souls, and a longing to experience life in a different way. Each character reminds me of someone that I have known, or has a persona that I have seen somewhere in life before. At the end of the play I realize that in a way, the audience is like Maryanne’s character. She observes the world and the people, and has big hopes for how her life will turn out. As an audience we observe the characters, relate them to our lives, and hope it will all turn out a certain way.
**** Emily Pineau is the author of No Need to Speak a poetry collection published as part of the Young Poets Series at Endicott College.