When the Off-Broadway show Cardinal opens with Lydia Lensky (played by Veep’s Anna Chlumsky) saying she wants to paint the town red, she’s not saying she wants to put on some heels and go out dancing. What she means is she literally wants to take a paint brush to her dying city.
“We need to do something drastic. And this is it,” says Lydia.
Lydia, who is enthusiastically eager, sometimes to the point of being annoying, proposes making her hometown, an unnamed locale in the Rust Belt, a tourist attraction by painting it red, a la Chefchaouen, Morocco, or Izamal, Mexico.
Her fast-talking enthusiasm not only convinces the mayor, Jeff Torm (Happy Endings’ Adam Pally in his Broadway debut), but the town majority, who votes to put a coat of cardinal paint all over its downtown. However, the redevelopment soon takes an unexpected turn as the traditional all-American town finds itself the focus of a bus tour, which brings with it a large influx of Asian immigrants and businesses who flock to the red city. Dumpling shops and Chinese markets edge out hardware stores and grocery stores, and Lydia and the mayor soon find themselves at odds as to what the future of their hometown should be.
The show has its merits—Pally and Chlumsky play off each other well and their strong comedic backgrounds aid the script’s witty dialogue. The Emmy-nominated Becky Ann Baker (Girls) and Stephen Park, playing a matriarch businesswoman and shrewd entrepreneur, respectively, also provide excellent performances. Cardinal also poses some good questions: how do you revitalize a community without sacrificing its nature? When, if at all, does an influx of immigrants become a bad thing?
However, viewers themselves seem to go on a bus tour of sorts, with the play taking too many stops without stopping very long at any of them. The complicated romantic relationship between Jeff and Lydia seems to distract from what the play is supposed to be about: the changing face of American cities and immigration. Unless the former part was the real plot and the urban redevelopment thing was the B-story? Tough to tell, since both seemed to get equal emphasis.
While the show’s social commentary isn’t as drastic as painting a town red, the storyline is entertaining nonetheless, if for no other reason than its relevance and great performances by the entire cast.
Cardinal is playing through Feb. 25 at 2nd Stage Theatre in Manhattan.
For more information, visit 2st.com/shows/current-production/cardinal.