Sometimes the act of reaching for a dream proves sufficient to resuscitate self-esteem; this theme of hope is the foundation upon which Matthew Witten builds his comic drama. In director Billy Hayes’ capable hands, “Washington Square Moves”– which might have been a dreary slice-of-life story about a group of homeless dregs — becomes an upbeat lesson in relativity, where success is measured by satisfaction with one’s lot in life, and the solution to change is “just doing it.”
Al (Robert Gossett), a once-promising, now-destitute street person, makes his living hustling chess games in Washington Square Park, where he is king of the Game of Kings.
His pals are Bobby (Gary Best), a loosely wrapped Vietnam vet, and Sammy D (Randy Vasquez), a young drug pusher who awaits his upcoming sentencing.
Into their hand-to-mouth status quo walks Randall (Leslie A. Jones), a former cellmate of Al’s who has stumbled into an upscale advertising gig.
Randall offers to build an ad scam involving Al and Bobby setting a new record for continuous chess play: 201 consecutive hours. Al is lured by the thought that this will give him an opportunity to pursue his dream of going to college.
Predictably, Randall doesn’t deliver the press necessary to insure the scam’s success, and the disillusioned Al pushes everyone away, including girlfriend Margie (Elayn Taylor).
The cast works beautifully. Gossett’s Al seamlessly offers the highs and lows of a man caught between hope and reality. Best and Vasquez function adroitly as foils and sounding boards, never betraying the unspoken bond among the three derelicts.
A tone of hype and self-serving sincerity sharpens the edges of Jones’ performance, while Taylor shows the capacity to be coolly professional and, at the same time, deeply compassionate.
In a wonderful non-speaking cameo, Stephanie Grodell articulates volumes with her eyes as a homeless woman. Jack Goodman and Diane Bye complete the cast.
Thomas Brown’s magnificent set converts the Mojo’s comfortable space into a locale in which you’d fully expect to be mugged, and Ves Weaver’s lights frame the time of day with specificity.
Dressing the stage audibly and visually, Joyce S. Long’s sound and Neda DeMayo’s costumes complete picture precisely.
The production has everything working in its favor — tech, cast, script — but it’s Hayes’ vision as a director that joins the parts into a highly effective whole.