Drifting Awake

Stone Street, hiding between towers

Just when your daily commute seems so predictable—when internal GPS takes over and nary a blaring traffic snarl can lift your gaze; when New York becomes nothing more than work and subways and sleep—that’s when the city throws a curveball and bends unexpectedly, when, POW!, a shocking, wonderful incongruity sprouts from the pavement and startles you into smelling the organic, fair-trade artisan coffee.

Take one false step in the roaring canyons of the Financial District and you’ll find yourself on one such jarring sprout. “Stone Street,” as it’s called, is a tiny 19th century holdout amidst the soaring corporate jungle on Manhattan’s lower tip, a bizarre slice of human-scale antiquity that sticks out like a small, cobblestoned thumb. No more than a few blocks of old-world, three- to six-story brick buildings, Stone Street is less remarkable for its quaint charm than for the way it contrasts with its infinitely taller and more severe neighbors. How did this place survive? you think on your way to, say, Goldman Sachs. What kept the skyscrapers out?

It was, predictably, a combination of public and private efforts that kept Stone Street from total decay on the one hand, and expensive construction crews on the other—read more about that story here. What remains, then, is a remnant of the haunts from Dutch settlers and the generations of builders that followed them.

But somewhere along the way, as other streets kept changing, Stone Street froze, and what’s left behind is a kind of screwy anachronism, a visual lesson in mankind’s endless sprint from past to future. Inviting stoops here, 100-story pillars there—a clear reality gives way to an odd optic scramble.

Such is the stuff as plays are made on. Mission Drift, the latest work from The TEAM, is a mixed-drink of a show with a similarly bi-cultural, split-focus sensibility, one part 17th century New Amsterdam, one part 2008 Las Vegas. In this rock musical, the story of a Dutch couple (“Catalina” and “Joris”) gets intercut with the more modern blues of an unemployed waitress (“Joan”); the resulting patchwork is a stab at determining the roots and nature of American capitalism.

Stone Street is that same story writ in rock and steel. As the cobblestones evoke the mercenary dreams of ye olde settlers (think Catalina and Joris), the concrete temples surrounding them summon the collateral damage of capitalism’s most recent misdeeds (think Joan). It’s a kind of storybook history of American commerce; architecture, story, mythos and history splendidly converging.

The ghosts of Catalinas and Jorises and Joans are waiting. Get lost downtown and say hello; they’re eager to wake you up.

photos by theater-words


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