Monday, September 20, 2021

Weekly Margin 2021, W38: Letters of Suresh, Lackawanna Blues

 9/14/21: Letters of Suresh
What: 2nd Stage presents Rajiv Joseph's epistolary play about a found box of letters to a priest in Japan, and the lives touched by the letters and their author.
And? While watching, I kept being struck by what a smart choice this was for 2nd Stage's return to live theater: the structure is largely monologue/audience address, which allows for a safer rehearsal set up, and a big theme of the play is the connections and relationships we can build, even while far away from each other. And, like the origami figures built by its title character, Rajiv Joseph's play tucks and folds its various plot threads neatly together to give a well-packaged and satisfying conclusion. The play may not be life-changing, but it's very well done, anchored by strong performances from Ramiz Monsef (Suresh) and Ali Ahn (Melody, the woman who finds the letters), as well as a final cameo-button from the ever-talented Thom Sesma. The sound design and original music by Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts is subtle but powerful, and in collaboration with Jiyoun Chang's lighting design and Shawn Duan's beautiful projection design, adeptly shapes the time passing between and even within letters as they are composed and spoken aloud. If I had one complaint (and it feels so minor to point it out, but the truth is it was continually distracting to me), it would be Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams's build of the scrims which host Duan's projections. The seams in the fabric are so visible, some of them even warped, and it keeps drawing the eye away from the beauty of the origami koi fish, or even the square of yellow paper which changes Suresh's life. I tried to find a textual rationale--perhaps it represented Japanese screens or the origami paper's folds--but neither rationale sees verification in the use of space. Even with this quibble, it's lovely to be in a theater filled with people who are so profoundly grateful to be back--I hope this audience goodwill will continue for a good stretch.

What: Manhattan Theatre Club presents Ruben Santiago-Hudson's tribute to "Nanny" Rachel Crosby, the woman who raised him.
And? It's a great opportunity for Santiago-Hudson to showcase his range as a performer, vocally, physically, and musically, and it's a very loving ode to the woman who saved not just him but countless others while running her boarding houses in upstate New York. Backed by Junior Mack on guitar playing original music by Santiago-Hudson's longtime collaborator Bill Sims Jr. (to whose memory the play is dedicated), the author/performer plays over twenty different characters from his childhood (as well as a mean harmonica). Parts of this are truly very strong--virtuosic even--but the momentum drops a few times into a restlessness until the next big story or character can begin. And, even if it's a reflection of the times, I am uncomfortable with the pejorative language regarding mental illness.

No comments:

Post a Comment