Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Cherry Lane Theatre

Review | To The Bone by Lisa Ramirez | Directed by Lisa Peterson | Cherry Lane Theatre

I haven’t seen everything but it’s likely that To The Bone is one of the best dramas currently playing in New York.  It’s a gritty, realist play focused on several Hispanic women forming a shared household and employed in a chicken processing factory.  The characters are vivid and individualized, the dialog terrific, and the issues matter.

Driving to work.L-R Annie Henk, Liza Fernandez, Lisa Ramirez, Dan Domingues. Photo Monique Carboni

Driving to work. L-R Annie Henk, Liza Fernandez, Lisa Ramirez, Dan Domingues. Photo Monique Carboni

The women have arrived, most of them, through dangerous migrations from countries in South and Central America to upper New York State:  their job is “cutting the breasts off dead chickens” — this particular assignment underlining the plays’ theme of brutality toward women.  The work is hard, repetitive, cold and disgusting but, compared with other jobs open to them, it pays relatively well.  The boss Daryl, a tall, blond brute, pushes the women to work faster, goading them with punishing denial of bathroom breaks.  The Hispanic Lalo is his enforcer.

A tenuous equilibrium of dominance and exploitation has been reached but, in the course of the play, human nature at its best and worst causes it to crash into tragedy.  Olga’s the rebel, a tough, angry woman fired by a sense of justice, who talks back to Lalo and Daryl, insists on bathroom breaks and goads the others to stand up for themselves — which smacks of unfairness to the other immigrants since Olga’s the only one with a green card.

Carmen, a fragile, poetic girl, brutalized on her way from Honduras arrives inward and depressed, but she warms to the tender love from her Aunt, Reina, sisterly love from Lupe, Olga’s daughter, and the beautifully gentlemanly but passionate love from Jorge.  Daryl, though, is no gentleman, and the boss has all the cards, all the more so when the law — advocated by young Lupe who has plans to become a lawyer — seems to be worse than useless for those here illegally, threatening them with deportation.

This play creates a world focused on the women, the two men they encounter at the plant, and Jorge — what a memorably sweet guy he is — a taxi driver who drives them to and from work, $5.00 for the round trip.  Most of the action is centered on the house with a swinging screen Olga runs.  Reina is a calm woman who “takes it” — and who can’t stand Olga’s pushiness and rebelliousness that gets them in trouble with the boss.  Given the context, Reina’s not wrong, as Olga’s vaunted sense of justice leads her to commit a hideously unfair act, to fan the flames it ignites, and to catalyze huge losses.

A problem with the play is that the author doesn’t seem to realize she’s written a true tragedy.  The resolution is too easy, even “feel good.” Lupe sets off for NYC and, we think, higher education.  The women who remain in the house will, it seems, get along fairly well.  One, booted from the factory because of Olga’s actions, even likes her new job better.  This pleasant resolution is implausible.  The losses these women have experienced, and the irrevocable suffering Olga causes, lead to no easy resolution.  Olga can’t just “go on” — her only hope for redemption is some kind of profound penance.  A hug from a daughter just doesn’t do it.

L-R Xochitl Romero, Annie Henk, Paola Lazaro-Munoz, Liza Fernandez, Lisa Ramirez. Photo Monique Carboni

L-R Xochitl Romero, Annie Henk, Paola Lazaro-Munoz, Liza Fernandez, Lisa Ramirez. Photo Monique Carboni

The performances are superlative.  Lisa Ramirez, playing Olga in her own play, is tough to the point of brutality, but with an irresistible charisma in spite of perpetrating ill actions in the cause of good.  Her beautiful, exhausted face — she reminded me of Anna Magnani in Open City — speaks volumes of her life experiences.  Paola Lázaro-Munoz gives an outstanding performance as Lupe with her no nonsense affect, forward head carriage, youthful on a skate board and adult in her understanding of how the world works.  Dan Domingues as Jorge particularly touched my heart.  His sidewise glances while driving the women, working things out in his mind toward helping and understanding, are expressive, as is his subtle emotional evolution toward manly loving.

Annie Henk brings a motherly strength to the part of Reina who, grounded in common sense survivorship, can’t stand Olga..  Liza Fernandez conveys Juana’s huge, personal grief even through occasional valiant and lovely smiles.  As Carmen, Xochitl Romero is fragile but tough enough to say what needs to be said when it comes to getting a job.  Gerardo Rodriguez plays a strong Lalo, the boss’s man who finds a way to speak up for himself to the boss.  Haynes Thigpen as Daryl is a convincing all-out brute toward undocumented women while fearful of his father.

Rachel Hauck’s brilliant “chicken coop” environment set, with lighting by Russell H. Champa and sound by Jill BC Du Boff, and Theresa Squire’s costumes — scruffy and touching — add to the sense that one has shared the world of the characters.

Ramirez represents a system that is socially unjust but where actions are fueled by personalities.  To The Bone brushes near greatness in its interplay of character and fate.  Like Melina Mercouri in Never on Sunday, the author seems to draw back from looking full in the face the powerful tragedy she has created.

To the Bone plays at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York City’s West Village through October 4, 2014.

Review | Crane Story by Jen Silverman | Directed by Katherine Kovner | The Playwright’s Realm at The Cherry Lane Theatre

… liminality …

Crane Story takes up an interesting topic: mixed states of being.  Characters are Japanese and American, can seem both male and female, and move between the world of the living and the dead.  As Theo, the American guitarist exasperatedly exclaims to his beloved, I don’t know if you’re alive or dead, or a man or a woman.

Review | David Greenspan performs Gertrude Stein’s Lecture PLAYS | Foundry Theatre | Cherry Lane Theatre

… intelligence at work …

There is a theatrical genius among us:  David Greenspan. On two Mondays in February this charismatic actor and writer performed Gertrude Stein’s lecture about plays as a monologue, Greenspan/Stein.  He characterizes her without imitating her.  How?  By finding the thought processes that lie behind the words and conveying them through his expressions, rhythms, changes of pace and gestures.  The audience concentrates intensely.  The effect:  Stein’s muddy though purposeful lecture takes on the suspense of an action thriller.

Stein peppers her sentences (to the extent they are sentences) with the creative holy grail of the early 20th century — the search for essence.  She’s in harmony with her friends, Picasso and Matisse, and their search for essence but there’s a big difference:  they succeeded, expressing the essential through new modes of abstraction.  Stein didn’t have the creative capacity herself to do for words what the painters did for the visual arts, though she set a challenge for others.

In the new modern painting, telling a story and expressing essence were totally opposed.  In this Lecture, and elsewhere, Gertrude Stein, seeking a comparable purity for her writing, subverts her own narrative.  She also gives herself over to a stream of consciousness style that reflects contemporary interest in ongoing process, and in new psychoanalytic ideas.  These features make her writing hard to follow, to the ridiculous at times — this is an amusing theater piece — but they’re driven by hot, revolutionary convictions with continued import that Greenspan makes accessible by conveying her thoughts-in-motion.

In contrast to Plato who wrote dialogs, Aristotle wrote his philosophy straight yet recently Greenspan performed a monologue of Aristotle’s writings about theater, from the Poetics, that was as intensely dramatic — and deeply moving — as any play I’ve seen.  It was something of a shock.  But, yes, intelligence at work to create ideas is drama — that’s what Greenspan reveals.

Watch what this remarkable theater personality does next!

Review | Telephone by Ariana Reines | Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll | Foundry Theatre | Cherry Lane Theatre

(seen in preview)

… is anybody there? …

There’s a really terrific gadget from ancient Egypt illustrated in the current issue of Archaeology magazine (Mar/Apr 09, p 38) — a flat, rectangular stone somewhat rounded at the top, and decorated with ears.  The idea was you could talk into it though the ears and the gods would hear you, “like an ancient cell phone.” Did the gods give ear?  The scientifically minded and result oriented Alexander Graham Bell, as he’s characterized in Part 1 of Telephone, would have been skeptical but Thomas Watson, his collaborator in the great invention, more given to imaginative flights, would have said “I knew it!”  Thus playwright Ariana Reines conveys the complementary aspects of successful invention.

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