I found Bryan Goluboff’s In-Betweens interesting, for we do not often get working-class plays taking us beyond the usual ticket-buying, solid-bourgeois milieu. In his new Shyster, Goluboff addresses what happens after the death of a Jewish Lower East Side brownstone landlord, presumably the (somewhat misnamed) shyster of the title. His widow, Ada, inherits, but his vagabond son, Harry, muscles in. Also back, released from the Israeli army, is the much nicer daughter, Rebecca, both kids having run away from their father. The sole tenants are a black woman, Elly, and her technologically gifted son, Ellis, Harry’s longtime friend and Rebecca’s boyfriend.
Ellis claims that the deceased shyster forgave him several months’ rent that Harry now tries to collect. Ellis resists this, even as he is loath to go into business with Harry, an alternative plan. The kindly Ada and still-loving Rebecca are caught awkwardly in the middle. All kinds of conflict result, helped by Dante Albertie’s assured direction, Beowulf Boritt’s inexpensive yet ingenious scenery, and good acting from Phyllis Newman, Fisher Stevens, Saundra McClain, Annabella Sciorra, and Charles Malik Whitfield. But Goluboff’s naturalism becomes at times too plodding, and the characters end up too easily reconciled. What Shyster lacks is that mysterious ingredient called art that would etch it into our consciousness and memory.