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BASEMENT is a Scary Concept Worth Developing

BASEMENT, a new play by Robert Rosenbaum, is a scary and uncomfortable look at what can happen if suddenly we find ourselves in a state of war, but this time, the war came to us.

Set in Brooklyn, the story is about a father and daughter who are retreating to an air-raid shelter in the basement of their Brooklyn building as the enemy flies over New York and begins bombing our city. Playwright Rosenbaum, inspired by true stories of the Nazis bombing London during World War II, brings the same dread and will-to-survive to this updated scenario, introducing modern characters inspired by current events, prejudices, and his own concerns that perhaps we are living in a time where this can happen. It’s chilling, but given the current state of affairs in our administration, North Korean threats of nuclear missiles that can reach our mainland, the reality that any conflict or war could inevitably loom in the future, on our turf, it is a fascinating concept.

The play, which is in development and enjoyed a brief, limited-engagement run thanks to the support of AND Theatre Company at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios in Manhattan, staged a full production directed by Joan Kane, that created a very realistic and claustophobic setting that quickly pulls you into their world.

As a widowed father, Jake (played by Jared Wilder) retreats with his young daughter, Hannah (Lussi Salmela) to the basement of their Brooklyn home to protect themselves from the sudden air raid. Explosions are heard in the distance, the lights flicker, and you are there with them as they huddle in fear, Jake trying to distract and comfort his daughter from the terror happening outside.

As the bombing continues, neighbors and local residents, discovering the shelter, attempt to gain access, leaving the father with the choice of whether to help them and give them shelter, or stay quiet and secure knowing that at least they are safe. But Jake is clearly a good person with morals and a conscience, and begins giving them entry, which in itself presents a whole slew of new dangers. As the bigoted neighbor, Steve (played by James Armstrong), expects protection but proves to be less willing to give it. Armed with a gun, he is ready to keep his pregnant wife, Lily (Jen Taher), safe under any condition. Soon, he potentially becomes as much a threat to the father and daughter as the unseen enemy outside.

Other characters include a Muslim family from across the street that run a deli, a black man with a questionable past, and a young Latina who end up with the father and daughter, as well as a soldier.

The play poses some fascinating ideas and conflicts, including our prejudices, and the lack of willingness to embrace many of the people in our neighborhood beyond superficiality. Do we really know our neighbors? Are we prepared? Is this scenario possible.

Good performances by these actors, a set that looks like a basement set up to keep the inhabitants safe, and fine direction keep the audience engaged and concerned for the characters. Still, the play is in development and has great potential to explore this concept deeper. The idea is terrifying, clearly engaging, and can go in many directions. It was satisfying on many levels, but I left wanting more…as many things are left vague. Perhaps that’s a good thing. I would love to see more of this work.

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