‘N/A’ Review: A Generational Clash That’s Short On Sparks

Two Congresswomen clearly based on Nancy Pelosi and AOC face off in this one-act, which is full of facts and bumper-sticker speeches.

Ana Villafañe and Holland Taylor in N/A. Daniel Rader

‘Tis the season for svelte plays with shortened character names. First there was Shayan Lotfi’s What Became of Us, a two-hander about a pair of siblings, Q and Z. Then Marin Ireland presented Pre-Existing Condition, about a woman, identified simply as “A,” undergoing therapy after breaking up with a man who hit her. Now comes N/A, a play by Mario Correa about two congresswomen identified only by their first initials, but who are instantly recognizable as former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (Holland Taylor) and AOC (Ana Villafañe, a dead ringer for the political phenom). It’s also the least surprising, most anemic of the bunch.

Sign Up For Our Daily Newsletter

By clicking submit, you agree to our <a href="http://observermedia.com/terms">terms of service</a> and acknowledge we may use your information to send you emails, product samples, and promotions on this website and other properties. You can opt out anytime.

See all of our newsletters

If the coyly abbreviated title was intended to lend a note of intrigue or indeterminacy to the production, any hope of defamiliarization is banished within the first couple of minutes. Beginning with AOC—or A, as the script insists on calling her—live streaming a speech to her many (unseen, unheard) followers from the Office of the House Minority Leader after winning the Democratic primary and ending with a whimper of a nature documentary parable about foxes and snails, N/A is about as suspenseful as an electoral abecedarium. There’s an overriding eat-your-vegetables vibe that would not be out of place in an under-pulsed House Select Committee televised hearing. Even inherently dramatic events like the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol—briefly evoked by the sound of fists pounding on doors and insurrectionists unleashing mayhem—fail to grab us by the throat. Part of the problem has to do with déjà vu. Correa, who previously worked as a congressional aide to congresswoman Constance Morella, sticks closely to the facts (so many facts!), delivering dutiful capsule summaries of the women’s backgrounds and hobbyhorses with the efficiency and spontaneity of a teleprompter and relitigating everything from the Green New Deal and universal health care to Trump’s family separation policy over the course of 80 increasingly uninspiring minutes. 

Ana Villafañe in N/A. Daniel Rader

While politicians in D.C. are twisting themselves in knots over the rise of disinformation, propaganda, and misinformation, N/A suffers from the inverse: information overload. The welter of information is funneled through exposition-heavy dialogue and needlepoint-ready slogans. “Power doesn’t come from a job; it comes from we, the people,” A reminds N in a representative didactic pronouncement. Yet for a play about political power, there’s strikingly little mention of the people that A and N take putative pride in serving. As if to entrench the notion of lawmakers as faceless bureaucrats, the two women refer to their colleagues and others only by their title, hence the Senate Majority Leader or the President. The only people referenced by their full names are tellingly dead: Oscar Alberto Martínez and his daughter, Angie Valeria, who died in 2019 while trying to cross from Mexico to Texas. “I lie awake trying to imagine that young father’s sacrifice . . . His anguish . . . How desperately he needed to get his daughter to our country. That could’ve been my father,” A eulogizes before getting into higher dudgeon over N creating “dissension in your ranks.”

Myung Hee Cho’s spartan set, furnished simply with a Lucite desk, a few chairs, two screens that go from Jeopardy! blue to black, and a glass box encasing a gavel, encourages the notion of a diorama on loan from a museum. “Shouldn’t that be in the Smithsonian?” cracks A to N about the gavel that N once used “to call the House into session” on her first day as speaker. N/A all but begs the same question from the audience. The legendary Holland Taylor shows little of the range she displayed in playing, for instance, Texas governor Ann Richards. N describes herself as a “two-ventricled,” “cold-blooded” reptile, but comes across more as a wax figure, albeit one with a fondness for chocolate, which she keeps in a bowl in her office. Director Diane Paulus has her scribble notes to herself on index cards, which she then proceeds to read aloud: a convenient way of semaphoring the chasm between the speaker and A. Talking about legacy media in their first meeting, A says brusquely to N: “If it’s printed on trees, no—it didn’t see me coming. No offense.” Another insultingly obvious marker of their generational gap: N speaks into landlines while A is appendaged to her cell phone.

Holland Taylor in N/A. Daniel Rader

In rare moments, N/A waves at the HBO series Hacks and intermittently gives the impression of wanting to become a play about an established woman begrudgingly learning from a promising protégé (and vice versa). We can almost hear Deborah Vance in N’s tea-kettle complaint that she has never been on the cover of Time magazine whereas her predecessors “got multiple covers—both men, both chased out of town with their tails between their legs!” Yet the mentor-mentee dynamic is short-circuited by bumper-sticker speeches that are as off-puttingly vague and vatic on the page as when spoken aloud. “Know your friends. Know your enemies. Know the difference.” “This is a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party.” “You are the face of a movement that would render us a permanent minority.” Who had voiced these koan-quotes? In their abstract amplitude, the utterances could have been made by either N or A—or anyone at all.

N/A | 80mins. No intermission. | Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater | 150 West 65th Street | (212) 501-3100 | Buy Tickets Here   

‘N/A’ Review: A Generational Clash That’s Short On Sparks