On That Day in Amsterdam

Primary Stages, the resident company at 59E59 Theaters, is running an artistically conceived production of a new play by Clarence Coo, recipient of the 2017 Whiting Award and 2012 Yale Series Prize awards.

His newest play, On That Day in Amsterdam, focuses on the meeting of two young men (Sammy and Kevin) in a club, their subsequent hookup at Sammy’s current houseboat residence and the following day when they discover they have the entire day together before having to split up that night and depart on their separate ways, Kevin back to his university in the United States and Sammy, a Syrian who is temporarily in Amsterdam while attempting to seek refugee status in London through risky means with the help of his brother.

Bold and inventive, Jason Sherwood’s scenic design utilizes a full scrim fronting the stage on which projections play, both pre-recorded and live by the clever use of cameras placed surreptitiously around on the stage. In addition to the multi-media visuals by Nicholas Hussong, the piece spans time, in which the audience gets glimpses of Rembrandt’s life in Amsterdam, Van Gogh leaving Amsterdam for Paris and Anne Frank, hidden away with her family in an Amsterdam attic during World War II. And all this with very little use of costume or props—most everything occurs with just a few chairs and a low platform center stage.

Photo by Jeenah Moon for The New York Times.

To accompany all the time travel is a supporting cast morphing seamlessly into a wide range of  characters and accents, illuminating not only the stories of these famous artists but also the current story unfolding between Sammy and Kevin.

It’s a beautiful production and captivating in its use of varied methods to share the tale not only of the two young men but of Amsterdam itself and all the facets that make up this charming and lovely city of canals.

The play examines multiple themes: the plight of refugees, the immigrant concept, the tricky psychology of memory and the folly of youth. It’s a lot to bundle together in 100 minutes but Coo succeeds in getting his points across in a compelling and suspenseful way and with poignant feeling at the end.

Even with a standard proscenium stage format, the entire show felt fresh and different due to the production elements, movement and direction. The cast flows easily from moment to moment and brings Amsterdam to vivid life.

And for those who have been to Amsterdam, the sights, sounds and locations of the play will deliver a touch of nostalgia in full technicolor, courtesy of beautiful projections.

On That Day in Amsterdam runs through September 4.

Special Note: Feature Image for this blog post courtesy of Ofoto Ray at Pixabay.