In five short glimpses of people you've seen before but possibly never considered, The Shalimar have painted an impressive mosaic of American life -- through the eyes of the disaffected, the obese, the immigrants, and the religious. From comic parables like "Deseret Desire" to the bleak realism of "Tostitos," it's time to meet You People.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Be they religious, obese, foreign, rebellious, or illegal, they're still people first, and The Shalimar's latest production You People aims to remind us of that, whether it's by doing a few rock numbers or a few one-act plays. This approach, while a bit sloppy and not as put together as LA FEMME EST MORTE (or Why I Should Not F!%# My Son), succeeds at being a lot like a melting pot of ideas, and there isn't a bad play in the bunch.
The first playful piece is Josh Liveright's Deseret Desire, in which we see two lovers getting all worked up with some serious kissing. Unfortunately for John (Justin Okin), Desiree (Laurie Naughton) will only take things so far on account of her religious beliefs ("butt stuff" is apparently OK from time to time -- ah, the vagaries of interpretation), and thanks to director Camilo Fontecilla's clever direction (the two sit at a distance from one another, responding to each other's kisses without actually giving or receiving them), we can actually see his frustration. It isn't long before John's agreeing to marry her, bring his kid up in the Church, hell, go to church himself -- anything for God, ahem, sex -- which says a lot about how some people treat religion in this country, especially when the sheets come off.
The next piece, Sharyn Rothstein's Miss Morley's Revenge is a more straightforward piece, and while it's nothing we haven't seen before, it's always a pleasure to see someone stand up for themselves, even when it's through the gaze of an impenetrable smile. In this case, Marilyn Hardy (Dawn Evans) is one of those self-righteous offenders who suggests "diets" and "moderation" like they've never been considered before, and Laura Morley (Kelli Lynn Harrison) just smiles and nods, being endearingly sarcastic as she plots her revenge. It's not a particularly deep play, but R. J. Tolan directs it without any menace, making it ordinary enough to remind us of just how often this well-intentioned discrimination goes on.
In Nastaran Ahmadi's Splinter, the discrimination is a bit more opaque. Man (Charles Semine) is an Irish student whose visa in America is about to run out. Woman (Jen Taher) would rather he didn't, as she's in love with him, but despite her desperate offers to marry him, he doesn't want to stay: "Being in America's only fun if you're American." It's an insidious comment, especially since Jessi D. Hill directs him as being so well-adjusted, happy, and normal; if we can't make this sort of visitor like us (the air has a smell, he says), who will like us?
Taking a more comic approach to the same thought is Hilly Hicks Jr.'s Blanco, in which an illegal immigrant, Blanca (Nina Freeman) tries to Google her American dream, with the help of her electronics store friend, Daryl (Blaire Brooks). Their discovery, through a gay video chat site, is that in America, you can not only achieve anything, but you can be anyone, and be accepted for it. Samuel Buggeln uses two unnamed actors (Chris McKeon and Chip Brookes) to bring the open gates of the Internet to life, but manages also to achieve a level of solemnity when "El Blanco" and "Army Cock" reveal who they are when they're not dreaming.
The best piece of the night is Michael John Garces' Tostitos, which is a rather frightening glimpse at disaffected youth in this country. Red (Andres Munar) rides around the stage on a bike, snarling at everything, while his punk hanger-on, Annie (Jenny Gomez) follows on a skateboard. Tanya (Barrett Doss), a good girl, has unfortunately fallen for Red, and he berates her even as he takes free sodas and candies from her, refusing to make any emotional connection. When Tanya's father, Danny (Edwin Lee Gibson) shows up, the two violently collide, and the lack of respect and understanding on both sides is frighteningly palpable. May Adrales doesn't hold anything back in the physical staging of this piece, which means she doesn't attempt to explain or justify the way these characters behave, and the piece is better for its mysterious bursts of anger, its violent teasing, and its aggressive banter (all of which Mr. Garces has refined far better in this short piece than in his last disjointed play, Acts of Mercy).
The evening transitions through each of these plays with songs from Davide Beradi and Tommy Smith, but with the exception of the last number, "You People," which actually engages the audience, these songs serve only to give the cast enough time to change the sets, and simply aren't clear enough; the direction from Shoshona Currier and Joey Williamson doesn't help either, as the 80s costuming doesn't fit the modernity of the other pieces, nor does it really speak to those people -- what they're doing is too easily identified with, too much a part of our culture. But if the play's the thing, then You People's got it.
The InterArt Annex (500 West 52nd Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $10.00
Performances (through 12/16): Thurs. - Sun. @ 8:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.