Paul Manuel Kane had ambitious goals for “Dancing on Nails,” including discussions of race, love and family. Unfortunately, these themes play out in the context of a five-caricature play. Not characters, but caricatures, whose motivations are confusing and undermine the best of Kane’s intentions.
The setting is New York in the spring of 1953. Sam Heisler (Peter Van Wagner) is a 50-year-old Jewish bachelor who seems most comfortable in the successful hardware store he owns.
His only employees are Carlos, a never-seen deliveryman, and Rose Levitt (Lori Wilner), Sam’s unhappily married cousin. Her husband, Joe (Michael Lewis), is a would-be jazz musician who blames the world for his problems.
Luba (Lauren Klein) seems to be a family friend, whose sole purpose is to fill in the many plot holes on the play’s road to an unsatisfying denouement.
Rose has hired a young African American, Natalie Washington (Jazmyn Richardson), to help out at the store. Natalie lives with her grandmother, wants to be an opera singer, and studies music.
At first Heisler is cold to her, insisting she stay late on her first day when she clearly wants to leave. He’s also dismissive of her goals. “Don’t throw your life away with fancy ambitions,” he tells her. “You gotta be practical.”