Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

 

THE LONELINESS OF LOCATING LANGUAGE

 

A View Froom 151st StreetTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published October 26, 2007

 

A View From 151st Street

now playing at the Public Theater through November 4

 

Delroy (Craig “muMs” Grant), a drug dealer in the shadows of New York’s dark streets, lives in his head, and his head is crowded with rhymes, rhymes that could (but probably won’t) burst into that rap song that will define his existence and take him away from the projects, those “nigger reservations” that are his personal hell. Daniel (Juan Carlos Hernandez), a cop who gets shot trying to bust a drug deal, lives with a bullet lodged in his body, and, as a result, is forced, like an aphasiac, to re-learn language, and is constantly frustrated by his inability to connect words with the feelings behind them. His wife, Lena (Liza Colon-Zayas), finds that the sincerity of the words she has at her disposal, English being her second language, are not enough to convey the depth of her feelings. Her sister, Irene (Elizabeth Rodriguez), has learned the language of the wisecrack to get her through the not always easy life of a working single mother. Ray (Andre Royo), an Army buddy of Daniel’s, who is recovering from crack addiction in the jammed apartment of Daniel and Lena, is comfortable enough and articulate enough with the language of jive, until, under the influence of drugs, language unravels, because the drugs, rather than liberating him, imprison him.  Mara (Marisa Malone), his nurse, a Russian émigré, may not have mastered the language of her new country, but she has mastered the language of sexual release. Monroe (Russell G. Jones), the African-American detective who keeps close tabs on Daniel’s recovery, speaks perfectly, but his contempt for ebonics suggests that he is estranged from his real self. It is clear that what these characters have in common is a failure to communicate through language. And language is the unfashionable subject of  Bob Glaudini’s powerfully disturbing “A View From 151st Street.” 

 

The play comes at us in pieces, like four separate parts of a puzzle that don’t, at first, seem to fit, until, suddenly, somewhere in the second act, the fact that language is the key becomes crystal clear, and the pieces come together with alarming speed and devastating results. The LAByrinth Theater Company production is stunning. Peter Dubois, who directed Glaudini’s “Jack Goes Boating” last season, does equally fine work here with more difficult and dangerous material. His actors couldn’t be bettered, though special mention should be given to Royo and Rodriguez for injecting flashes of real personality into their characterizations. And Grant gives such raw and brutal power to the inchoate emotions of the tragic Delroy that the theater seems to vibrate whenever he comes out of the shadows and takes center stage.

 

Michael Cain’s jazz score – which recalls the jangly music of 50s noir – and the three musicians (Andrew Emer, Nir Felder and Q) – are, in a word, great. Japhy Weideman creates on the stage the sort of harsh twilit world that John Alton used to create on film. And David Korins, once again, proves how far-ranging his talents as a set designer are, with his subtle suggestions of a city in darkness. Daniel and Lena’s living room looks suspiciously like the living room he designed for “Jack Goes Boating.” Intentional? It is as effective here as it was before.

 

But it is Glaudini who deserves most of the credit, because as good as the production is, it is the play that continues to haunt you long after you’ve left the theater; that reverberates, as it were, in the midnight of the soul. The remarkable thing about Glaudini’s style is that it is a style, and, at the same time, it possesses none of the show-off qualities of mere stylishness. It sometimes seems as plain as the purest poetry, stark and simple. And, despite the hard observations he makes about life, Glaudini does not bother to conceal the fact that, under the surface toughness, there beats a soft heart. Only the most cynical among us would consider that a criticism. Glaudini has been in the theater for a long time, but he has only recently added playwriting to his list of credits. He has become one damned good playwright. And, as an examination of the way language keeps us from reaching out to each other and reaching into ourselves, it is far more relevant, right now, than any revival of  “Pygmalion” might be.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 
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