Press "Enter" to skip to content

TNC debut play about mothers, daughters and anorexia

BY CLAUDE SOLNIK | Briana Bartenieff’s first full-length work at Theater for the New City is presented with a cast of women. Specifically, “Issue #9” shows us a world with students who deal with everything from bullying to eating disorders and life in general. We get the view of the world as girls, and women, go through life, wrestling with problems, dreaming and, sometimes, dealing with disaster.

“This is a very much female-centric story. Motherhood is a very big topic and the main basis of the story,” Bartenieff said after opening night. “I don’t believe in a man coming in to save the day. I didn’t want romantic distractions from what was going on.”

Sandy Melissa Garcia, left, and Ada Victoria. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
From left, Audrey Latt, Ada Victoria and Amy Herzberg. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

“Issue #9,” with script, lyrics and direction by Briana Bartenieff and music composed by J.H. Greenwell, is running in the Community Space at Theater for the New City, at 155 First Ave., through April 21.
Tickets are pay as you can Thursday, and $20 and $15 for students and Dramatists Guild members Friday to Sunday. It is her debut play, but a very different kind of debut at a theater that specializes in new work and new voices.

Briana Bartenieff, 22, is part of the family that founded and runs Theater for the New City, itself a community and a family institution. She is the daughter of lighting designer/actor/puppeteer Alexander Bartenieff and the granddaughter of Crystal Field and George Bartenieff, co-founders of TNC.

Ada Victoria, left, and Grace. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
Grace, as Bradley, shoots up. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

This, though, is very much her play, crafted from a world she has summoned from time in school, years of theater, imagination and a belief in telling an important story.

Briana Bartenieff has lived a life in theater almost since birth, helping with shows, acting and at SUNY Purchase initially studying acting before switching to writing.

“Issue # 9” was her senior project at SUNY Purchase, where she wrote it and directed a reading. After garnering a positive reaction, she went ahead with directing a full-production currently at TNC with the TNC team behind the show.

“This is a lot harder. It’s a deep and hard story, a really delicate story,” she said recently. “It’s important to understand the emotions behind the characters.”

Sarah Boess, left, and Amy Herzberg. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

On a recent day before the opening of the play, with lighting and sound by Alexander Bartenieff and set by Mark Marcante, a handful of young women sat in TNC’s hallway, just outside the theater before rehearsal. The group of female actors, all around Briana’s age, portray fictional characters born out of a world in which she lived.

“I went to an all-girls high school where eating disorders are common and casually spoken about,” she said. “I saw how media affects and appropriates and promotes eating disorders.”

In “Issue #9,” we see how girls become obsessed with looking like the people, or the photographs, in teen magazine pages. The girls become indoctrinated, missing breakfast and lunch to stay thin, never satisfied with their weight loss as they dwindle, if not entirely disappearing.

From left, Sandy Melissa Garcia and Sarah Boess. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

After a desperate girl takes her life, we feel not only the pang of sorrow over the pointless loss of a promising life, but see the impact this has on her mother and others who know and love her.

“The daughter runs out of hope,” Briana said. “She thinks she’s going to have these thoughts and feelings forever.”

That single, tragic act sets off a mother’s plot to take revenge on the media that held up a kind of misplaced masterpiece in magazine pages as a ruthless, ruinous role model.

“She’s thinking of the hundreds of thousands of other girls who might go through the pain her daughter did,” Briana said of the mother’s plot.

Sandy Melissa Garcia. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

The play is set not at a school, but a gas station and convenience store in Germantown, NY, one of the few social hubs in that town.

“That’s why I chose it to be there,” she said, noting that is the town where Crystal Field writes her musical each year.

While “Issue #9” has a substantial story, presenting drama through realistic dialogue, it is a musical with songs placed at key moments when speech can strain to express strong emotions.

“The emotions are so heavy in this play,” Briana said. “It can only be conveyed through music at certain points.”

The two-hour-and 10-minute musical, with intermission, is her first full-length musical, but Briana is one of many people to present work at TNC, where she also works in development and fundraising.

“This would not have been possible without the people at TNC who worked very hard on this production,” said Briana, who graduated last May. “I think the thing that I love the most is how the theater can give anyone a chance. And anyone has a story. It’s just as important to tell it.”

Ada Victoria. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
From left, Audey Latt, Ada Victoria and Amy Herzberg. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

She has written and directed short plays for TNC’s Lower East Side Festival of the Arts and been assistant director for TNC’s summer Street Theater musical for four consecutive years. Her writing has been published in The Village Sun, The Villager, amNY and on SUNY Purchase College’s Web site.

As she finished our conversation, she said she had to prepare to understudy one of the actors for the show. In theater, where many people find one role, she has experience in the various disciplines.

“I grew up as an actor first. I was in Street Theater since I was 3, acting. Then I went to Purchase for acting,” she said. “I wrote in high school for fun and I realized I wanted to write instead. I changed my major to playwriting and screenwriting.”

While many writers may think of TNC as their artistic home, “Issue #9” is truly a homecoming in this case, at a place where so many new playwrights find a stage to tell their and others’ story.

“Issue #9,” is running from April 14 to 21, at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (between Ninth and 10th Streets); Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.; Thursdays — Pay What You Can; Friday, Saturday and Sunday — general admission $20,
students and dramatist members $15. For more information, call 212-254-1109 or visit

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.