The horrors and hopes of four souls and two countries are intertwined at Theatre 167 in Long Island City. Horror…and hope. What human being, cruel or compassionate hasn’t displayed both powerful emotions?
The year is 2011. The time and place could be anywhere. But it isn’t. It’s a claustrophobic space in New York City. It’s simultaneously a store room in Malawi, Africa. Science fiction or intense drama? Well, the audience is just inches away from two separate worlds that share the same space.
But it is not their physical presence that strikes us. It is the force of their feelings.
Stage left; Buckets of flowers reveal the work room at a florist. Stage right; More shelves and pine boxes. It’s clearly a different kind of store room. Center stage; A very large, very solid wooden work table (scenic design, Brendan Flaherty).
Playwright J. Stephen Brantley constantly baits us. The character’s words and actions lead us to one set of conclusions only to be hurled toward another. The strategy is truly potent.
Artistic Director Ari Laura Kreith and Artistic Producer Jenny Lyn Bader utilize the small cast to the maximum effect. They are all immensely talented and embrace their roles with clarity of purpose.
Muscular, menacing Jack (J. Stephen Brantley) first enters with a woman slung over his shoulders. What are his intentions? As the play progresses his possible brutality melts.
Ericka (Flor De Liz Perez) is an idealistic city girl who has been “rescued” by Jack in Malawi. Has she truly been victimized or is there much more compassion to Jack’s back-story?
Chad (Todd Flaherty) is wisecracking and self assured as he dominates the back room in NYC. This perception is destined to change as his tragic past comes to light.
Gilbert (Adrian Baidoo) a student from Malawi dutifully sweeps the floors and spouts morality. But his life in Africa is a portrait painted with the colors of self defense and survival.
Despite the violence and gloom, a pervasive sense of optimism and affection permeates the performance. And the play’s title, “Pirira.” It means; to endure!!
The play is running at the Chain Theatre, 21-28 45th Road in Long Island City. Call the box office at (646) 580-6003 or surf to theatre167.org. The intimate venue should house many more top quality productions. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.