There have been real-life battles recently about the merging of schools in an effort to bring about more education equality. “Dan Cody’s Yacht,” written by Anthony Giardina and presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club, reflects such concerns, specifically in the conflict he devises for the fictional towns of Stillwell and Patchett, Massachusetts, outer suburbs of Boston. Giardina makes the drama sizzle with characters on opposite sides and with personal agendas.
Cara Russo (Kristen Bush) is a principled teacher who is for the proposed merger involving her elite high school and one with a lower-class enrollment. At the outset she encounters Kevin O’Neill (Rick Holmes), whose son, Conor (John Kroft), a student lacking in motivation and getting poor grades despite his father’s aspirations for him, is in Russo’s class. The play’s title is a reference to “The Great Gatsby” and symbolizes O’Neill’s hunger for seizing opportunities. Russo is a single mom raising a daughter, overweight Angela (Casey Wyland), who writes poetry, but is enrolled in the lesser school and doesn’t see much chance for going to a high-profile university. She could be helped by the merger.
O’Neill is a brash, loud-mouthed know-it-all who is against the merger and tries to bribe Russo, who bluntly refuses. (They are both on the committee scheduled to vote on the issue.) But she is intrigued by O’Neill, who runs an investment club that meets monthly and greatly enjoys proving his financial savvy. Russo is wary but could be helped by his promise to improve her financial situation via stock market investments. O’Neill puts any romantic issue out of the way by telling her he is gay. (We also meet Geoff (Jordan Lage) and two women, Pamela (Meredith Forlenza) and Alice (Laura Katchen, at one of O’Neill’s investment gatherings).
The class issues are paramount throughout, including Russo’s friendship with less-privileged Cathy (Roxanna Hope Radja), to whom Russo feels superior. The plot becomes very involved as self-interest clashes burst out, especially between O’Neill and his son, Russo and her daughter, Russo and O’Neill, and with O’Neill trying to manipulate Russo’s daughter into being more ambitious and strive to fulfill her repressed dream of getting into Vassar. As one might expect, the initial profits Russo realizes take a downturn and she panics.
All of this is an awful lot of goings-on, and the play gets overly talky and stuffed at points. But the issues raised are serious ones reflecting major problems in society, and the cast is excellent. John Lee Beatty has created a a very serviceable set design, which, thanks to a circular portion of the stage, moves easily between assorted locations. Director Doug Hughes keeps the various dramatic elements and often-impassioned dialogue humming. At City Center Stage 1, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed June 8, 2018.