Monday, September 26, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W40: Cost of Living, american (tele)visions

 9/21/22: Cost of Living
What: The Broadway transfer of Martyna Majok's Pulitzer-winning play about people in disabled bodies, their caregivers, and that freefall fear when there's no safety net left. Original stars Gregg Mozgala and Katy Sullivan reprise their Off-Broadway performances, joined now by Kara Young and David Zayas.
And? I had seen the Off-Broadway run in 2018 and been impressed, but somehow seeing it again now I am even more blown away. Each individual's story is heartwrenching: the ways they're unable or unwilling to let themselves connect, and the ways they try anyway. David Zayas as Eddie does great work with his opening monologue, but delivers much of his scene dialogue facing forward, which cuts off his connection with his scene partners. Kara Young brings beautiful vulnerability with a spiny edge as her character Jess bonds with Gregg Mozgala's sarcastic, arrogant, and somehow sweet John. And Katy Sullivan, oh Katy Sullivan. She's extraordinary as Ani: vibrant, angry, grieving, wickedly funny, and all while moving only her face and two fingers. It's still very rare to see visibly disabled bodies on the New York stage. It's rarer still to see them on a Broadway stage. If for only that reason, this play would be important; but this play is also deeply moving, telling stories about disabled characters without making their disability their only defining feature. These are four fully realized characters in a world hostile to vulnerability in any stripe, and yet the possibility of kindness, of reaching out a hand, still persists. Martyna Majok is truly a gifted and poignant writer, and I can't wait to see what's next from her.

What: NYTW presents Victor I. Cazares's new play, as directed by Theatre Mitu's Rubén Polendo, about an undocumented Mexican family living in the States, and their obsession with Walmart and with the television, as a shattered prism to examine their grief at a sudden loss.
And? When I walked into the space to see the gridded white container of the stage, holding four oversized rusted boxes (scenic & costume design by Bretta Gerecke), aurally underscored by half-phrases lost in a broadcast stream (technology design by Theatre Mitu (Kelly Colburn, Alex Hawthorn, and Justin Nestor)), I remembered, "Oh yes, Rubén Polendo has always been excellent at creating an environment." That gridded container reveals itself to be a wall of screens for broadcast; the rusted boxes open to show the family's double-wide sliced in half, or the toy aisle at Walmart, or a fallen meteorite. The family, meanwhile--mother Maria Ximena, father Octavio, daughter Erica, and dead brother Alejandro (played by his friend and lover Jesse)--reveal themselves to be unable or unwilling to process their griefs, demanding filters of television screens full of telenovelas, shopping channels, Nintendo games, and homemade videos not for public viewing. Just as the family is shattered by their grief and denial, so too is the timeline shattered: Alejandro is alive and he's not, Maria has left and she hasn't, Octavio knows the truth and he doesn't, Erica can save everyone and she can't. The entire play is a bit of a Schrödinger's family until at last the facades come down and the truth is faced. Cazares's writing is both poetic and blunt somehow, allowing us an escape from reality before sending us back to the ground, like the meteorite Erica keeps wanting to find. At times it feels a bit overwritten, some language losing its poignancy upon repetition, but I can't think what of this journey I would cut.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W39: Nothing But Thunder

What: Duncan Pflaster's new play, presented as part of the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City, about Dionysus and Prosymnus, and Dionysus's journey to the underworld to rescue his mother.
And? We had a bit of a rough night, as the A.C. wasn't working, but I give so many props to the cast and crew who kept it together and still delivered a good show. The cast has a playful energy and an ease with Pflaster's charming verse script. Alyssa Simon, as Dionysus's mother Semele, is particularly good, fully inhabiting her character's suffering and dissociation while also being hilarious. Amy Overman's costume design is appealing in concept, but sometimes faulty in execution (I love seeing larger bodies on stage, but it's disappointing to see them in costumes that don't fit properly). It's also quite lovely to see a queer narrative that has always been a part of Greek myth canon but very seldom seen (Pflaster's note in the program points out that we know much better the parody version of this narrative, The Frogs, where Dionysus journeys to the underworld to rescue, not his mother, but playwright Euripides).

Kenny Wade Marshall and and Spencer Gonzalez as Prosymnus and Dionysus.
Photo by Duncan Pflaster Photography and Graphic Design.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W38: As You Like It, Remember This: The Lesson of Jan Karski

 9/07/22: As You Like It
What: Shakespeare in the Park and Public Works present a fresh take on Shakespeare's play about love, poetry and subterfuge in the Forest of Arden, with new songs by Shaina Taub.
And? This was my first Public Works show, an organization which employs performers from all walks of life to fill the theatrical space with community. It's certainly a good text fit for it, especially when Duke Senior is celebrating his community's pastoral life in the forest. It didn't always mean the most satisfying execution of the text, however (and if I never have to hear that herald chorus for Duke Frederick again, it'll be too soon). But it's still a highly benevolent production: glad to be here, glad to be with us, and hoping we're glad to be here too. Rebecca Naomi Jones, who elevates every production she touches, is excellent here as Rosalind (even if her voice is tired, she still belts out her songs with passion and energy, and is met with well-earned cheers). Darius De Haas has been out for the past week, which meant I got to see Amar Atkins go on for Duke Senior, and he is absolutely lovely. So full of smile, of royal presence, and his strong tenor floats beautifully above the chorus. When he's onstage, it's hard to remember he is not, in fact, the main character in the show.

Bianca Edwards, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Idania Quezada, and Brianna Cabrera
as Phoebe, Rosalind, Celia, and Silvia. Photo by Joan Marcus.

What: TFANA presents a one-man play about Holocaust witness Jan Karski, who visited a ghetto and a camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and told what he saw to leadership in the UK and US, only to be ignored or disbelieved.
And? Heartbreaking. Infuriating. Extraordinary. The story Jan Karski has to tell is incredible, that one man did and saw so much, and the work of Clark Young and Derek Goldman to adapt that story into the play Remember This does real tribute to the man, and honor to the millions of victims who did not survive, despite his efforts. David Strathairn transforms himself into not only Karski, but all the people Karski met, with some fascinating fuzzy lines (all characters are portrayed, not by Strathairn, but by Strathairn-as-Karski, his Polish accent and lilt inflecting each character), and moments that overtake Karski seem to also overtake Strathairn. See this if you can--it's one of the highlights of the Fall season, calling it now.

David Strathairn. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W37: Los Otros, Back to You

8/31/22: Los Otros
What: A new semi-autobiographical chamber musical from Ellen Fitzhugh and Michael John LaChiusa about two people whose lives seem separate, and how they finally connect: a white twice-divorced mother of two and a gay Mexican accountant.
And? The resolution wasn't as ultimately satisfying as its ambitions, but both performers are still absolutely wonderful, with resonant instruments and affecting vulnerability.

Caesar Samayoa and Luba Mason as Carlos and Lillian. Photo by
Russ Rowland.

9/02/22: Back to You
What: Turn to Flesh, FUERZAfest, and the Hispanic Federation present Chris Rivera's new play about two Mexican-American childhood friends who fall in love but learn that love isn't as simple as just saying the words.
And? Just completely lovely. Alternately heartmelting and heartbreaking, poetic, deeply human. Both Rivera and Joe Montoya give honest and nuanced portrayals of their characters, tapping into their vulnerabilities with bravery, while also finding their charm and sweetness, their hard edges and their protective walls. I'm so grateful I got to see it, and I hope this play has the long life it deserves.