The Public Theater’s lights dim, chatter hums to a halt, and suddenly audience members are submerged into the intimate struggles and triumphs of Jackson and Suze. Jackson, a successful lawyer raised in an urban slum and played by Grantham Coleman, convinces his girlfriend Suze, portrayed by actress Tessa Ferrer, to move into his childhood neighborhood. He promises the potential of the neighborhood and in the process poses a query concerning gentrification: is change a necessary vehicle for the greater good, or is it a disruptive burden? This concept is illustrated from the play’s beginning, when the residents, eager to explore their new home, discover a broken buzzer. Suze subsequently realizes that Jackson’s friend, a recovering addict named Don (Michael Stahl-David), will be the couple’s live-in roommate. The trio’s time together is dominated by harassment from neighbors and by turmoil within the group.
The play’s writer, Tracey Scott Wilson, elegantly weaves conflict into the framework of the play by creating multifaceted characters who are plagued by their own pasts and convictions. Jackson is haunted by his childhood; Don is addiction’s prisoner, and Suze is conflicted by her growing attraction to Don. Their close quarters cause dramatic outbursts, and the play is a test of time and relationships. By living together, the protagonists are able to see into each other and understand one another despite their difficulties. However, seeing each other in a different light means accepting the responsibilities that accompany darkness.
The director, Anne Kauffman, executes the intimate nature of the characters’ relationships by incorporating tense and relatable dialogue and seamlessly blending these moments with friendly exchanges. The initial warm closeness of the characters is further exemplified through the comfy nature of the setting. The pristine feeling of the apartment is a stark contrast to the worn nature of the characters’ struggles, which are eventually exposed. Though seemingly fresh, their arguments are continuations of past disagreements. The characters bring out the worst in each other, and the melancholy undertones of their screaming matches strike close to home in a familiarly grim way. People, like buzzers, are often broken passages into the troubles of humanity.