The Citiblog

Review: N/A is More Than OK
June 28, 2024, 12:54.28 am ET


Photo: Daniel Radar

By Brian Scott Lipton

Perhaps it’s a faint praise – or perhaps it’s pure validation -- but by the end of Mario Carreo’s entertaining if superficial two-hander “N/A,” now at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theater under Diane Paulus’ solid direction, the fact is we’re not completely sure whose side the Chilean-born playwright is on!

In fact, one briefly wonders at the end of this 80-minute two-hander, which is based on a series of real and imagined conversations between Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (neither of whom are mentioned by name) over a four-year period that perhaps Correa has been advocating for us to just start a third political party that includes neither of these storied ladies.

On one side of this ever-widening political and generational battle stands “N,” brilliantly portrayed by the veteran actress Holland Taylor, with the perfect blend of acerbity, sincerity and slight cluelessness. (No one really delivers a quip or hidden insult quite like Taylor does.) As befits a member of her generation, she understands little about the Internet – especially the benefits of tweeting and Facebook campaigns – and prefers her tough conversations to be held “mano o mano” as it were. Still, she’s savvy enough to “bribe’ opponents with chocolate squares, hip enough to buy her granddaughter an Eleanor Roosevelt Barbie, and strong enough to wield her gavel with the force of Solomon!

Prowling around her minimal Congressional office in her pink skirt suit (both by Myung Hee Cho), N is a pure “eyes on the prize” gal: the prizes being making sure the House of Representatives always has 218 Democrats (aka the majority vote) and that she gets to lead them, age be damned. We never doubt that she is perfectly aware that Congress, which she seemingly loves and disdains at the same time, is a deeply flawed institution. But, as she frequently quotes, “it’s the only bucket we’ve got.” And we also don’t doubt, despite A’s frequent accusations, that N has some deeply felt convictions about life, liberty and the pursuit of justice, even if she lets them occasionally fall by the wayside.

Still, we question if Correa’s sympathies lie with “A,” perfectly embodied by Ana Vilafane, having convincingly exchanged Gloria Estefan’s gowns for a series of slim black pantsuits, red lipstick and increasingly severe hairstyles. A is definitely a populist crusader, one willing to fight to the death for her ideals as well as the concerns of her constituents, but she has little use for consensus, compromise or political loyalty.

Further, Correa adeptly captures A’s tunnel vision – did it ever make sense to completely eliminate ICE – as well as her self-righteous, often academic view of the world, both in DC and at large, that has made her both a revered and self-polarizing figure.

The play could use both a little less political debate and a bit more human interaction between the women. Indeed, the show’s most effective scene is when N ventures into A’s office after the January 6 attacks – during which A hid her in bathroom, fearing death – showing both a motherly and sisterly concern for the younger woman. While even N may never imagined such a day, she is not completely surprised and reminds A that being in Congress is “not for the faint of heart.”

In the end, “N/A” isn’t likely to change anyone’s basic feelings about these two groundbreaking women. If you loved one of these ladies before, you’re probably ready to write her another check. And if not, nothing here will change your mind. It’s kind of like an election that way!