Review of The Fare play in Manhattan: tale of Muslim NYC cabbie vs. Connecticut banker

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Hemang Sharma and Scott David Reeves in ‘The Fare’. Photo: Noorah Bawazir.

NEW YORK: Ever wondered what Rajat Gupta’s life was at home in tony Westport, Connecticut, as his career devolved from high profile philanthropist, ex-Goldman Sachs director, respected corporate Board member to that of a criminal, eventually put behind bars for insider trading? How Gupta’s life disintegrated day-by-excruciating-day, his relations with friends, colleagues and family members besmirched; the world judged him disparagingly through multiple media reports that painted him as a money-obsessed villain.

Some may, however, brush it aside, call Gupta’s predicament a minor aberration for a man worth tens of millions of dollars – a virtual storm in a million dollar Yixing Zisha teapot. He’ll pick himself up; spring back to the same heights as if jumping off a trampoline, might be the overwhelming opinion.

It’s not the story of Gupta, but a new Off Off Broadway play, ‘The Fare’, that opened in Manhattan March 16th, and runs through 26th, is a riveting look at how a moment’s indiscretion can cause irreparable professional harm in a wealthy banker’s life, as it spirals within weeks to financial perdition, chasms appear in his happily married life, friends and colleagues distance socially from him and his wife, make them feel like a pariah.

Directed by Scott David Reeves, who also gives a solid performance as the banker Rich, and written by Claude Solnik, ‘The Fare’ is based on a true story. It’s inspired by real events that transpired between a New York City Muslim cab driver and a Caucasian banker from Connecticut, who get into a heated dispute over the ride amount, which eventually ends in bloody violence, and later, arrest of the banker. The incident was widely reported by the media. It was finally settled legally. Indian actor Hemang Sharma plays the character of Omar, the cab driver.

‘The Fare’ is also a grim reminder of how in the Trump era, the ‘R’ (racism) word has perhaps edged out the once-volatile and perhaps now archaic ‘N’ word from modern urban life in America. While the ‘N’ word is used as much as an expletive and expression in friendly banter, the ‘R’ word has a subtle trajectory and ferocious velocity that gives it more potent force. There are underlying social, emotional, psychological and physical currents to the ‘R’ word that sweeps society today, from hate crimes to bigotry.

Sarah Grace Sanders, Scott Zimmerman and Scott David Reeves in ‘The Fare’. Photo: Noorah Bawazir.

It’s these undercurrents that ‘The Fare’ tries to capture. With fixed props, the play uses spotlight to great effect, as split narratives also unravel the split personalities of Rich and Omar; how they come to grips with the ordeal and upheaval in their personal life.

The play is tilted more towards exposing the professional damage to Rich’s life, after his encounter with the cabbie following a charity night that involved heavy drinking. It’s never revealed fully what exactly the banker from Westport said to Omar, a Pakistani-origin cabbie (in real life an Egyptian, revealed Solnik, in a chat after the opening night performance), but with derogatory, racist rhetoric against minorities heavily in the news, one can well imagine what it was.

Rich tries to explain that he stabbed Omar with a pen-knife in self defense, feared he was being kidnapped. The question is not to believe Rich or not. But to wonder at his silliness at using an object in an argument, fathom the culpable intention of the alcohol-induced act.

Yet, Rich doesn’t come out as a calculating, racist demon, who scoffs and berates people beneath him. The play attempts to humanize his offense. One can glean that Rich is that Everyman who took a drink too many, got into a stupid argument, and then committed an even more stupid act, to compound his problems. A drunken night’s revelry gone terribly wrong. Should he lose everything he’s earned with his hard work due to that one moment of stupidity, is the question effectively brought out by the play.

Omar is shown to be the immigrant opportunist who tries to take monetary advantage of the situation as it plays out. The point driven home too by the play is: why not?

It’s a finely balanced act.

Sarah Grace Sanders, who plays Rich’s wife Claire, Michael Catlege as a friend and colleague of Rich and Scott Zimmerman, who plays Larry, an attorney, give excellent cameo roles, and enrich the play.

‘The Fare’ is a bit too long and does get tedious at times as it tries to hammer some home truths on race and racial identity. The lines at times seem repetitive; much of the subtle humor is lost as it’s wedged between the racially sensitive plot that transgresses on the harsh reality that plays out perhaps every hour in some cab outside of the Theater for the New City, its venue.