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Citizen Rothstein @ UCBT - 11.12.10

Nicole Shabtai in "Citizen Rothstein" | Photo: Melissa Gomez

By: Lucas Hazlett

Earlier this year, legendary theater scribe and executive producer, David Mamet sent a memo to the writing staff of the since-canceled television show "The Unit" wherein he proffered advice on how to avoid writing bad drama that bores audiences.

Among the list was the simple idea that "anytime two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit." Well, it isn't often that maxims of this power are challenged, let alone successfully. In the one-woman show Citizen Rothstein, the audience is treated to six different characters talking about a "third" and never once is shit-crocked.

The brain child of writer/performer Nicole Shabtai and director Caitlin Tegart, Citizen Rothstein is a 30-minute character study centered around Ava Rothstein, a privileged 13-year-old girl who is days away from a highly-publicized Bat Mitzvah promising to be the social event of the season.

Though we never actually see Ava, we learn about her through a gauntlet of troubled friends, family and personal employees who shape the context of her adolescent life. From Ava's mentally-broken rabbi, whose reluctance to perform the ceremony parodies the opening moments of Apocalypse Now, to Real Housewife Jill Zarin desperately fishing for an invite via incessant Facebook videos, Shabtai and Tegart delicately navigate Ava from a spoiled brat to troubled youth to fetishized fashion accessory, creating an engaging tableau evoking the screwball pictures of George Kukor and Woody Allen's Jewish neuroticism.

Citizen Rothstein has all the elements one expects from a good show, namely, big characters with clearly defined behavioral quirks and strong points-of-view, but because of the compelling narrative around which the piece is wrapped, it never feels like anything other than theater.

It is a comedic-drama that explores the tragedy of characters who are ridiculously overwhelmed with the absurd pressures they're facing in life, in this case, being rich on the Upper East Side.  And because Shabtai delights in the struggles of her characters, who are essentially hapless victims of circumstance, the audience takes delight in both laughing at and commiserating with the affected.  It's an incredible testament to a writer/performer who I don't see requiring any memos from the desk of David Mamet any time soon.

  • THE PLUG: Don't miss Nicole Shabtai in "Citizen Rothstein," happening WEDS, NOV 24 @ 8PM at The UCBT-NY | $5

-- Lucas Hazlett is a comedy geek who improvises with anyone he can.

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