By Marcina Zaccaria
Machines matter in Dolphins and Sharks, the latest offering from Playwright James Anthony Tyler, produced by Labyrinth Theater Company.
With workers like cogs in the machine, this class warfare drama combines Nigerian NYU alums, Dominicans, and African Americans born in Harlem. It’s a world set on 125 Street in a copy and printing store called Harlem Office. Daily power struggles are entirely credible under the direction of Charlotte Brathwaite, who masterfully incorporates movement sequences that bring the poetry and despair of Uptown to a compact Greenwich Village stage.
Tina Fabrique (Amenze Amen) is a capable anchor, and Pernell Walker, as Isabel Peters, provides all of the humor and truth in this work place drama. The signs of oppression are on the computer screen, and the language of upheaval is in almost every speech of. Chinaza Uche (Yusuf Nwachukwu). Flor De Liz Perez (Xiomara Yepez) carves out a world without her mother in Washington Heights, and a place in upper level management.
Although it takes a moment to acclimate to the verve of the production and the chipper nature of the characters, the dynamics become clearer in Act Two. While Act One features begging for a job and interviewing for a better one, Act Two deals with the awful world of fires, work theft, and back room lectures. While some are struggling with the challenges of management and termination, others just want a chance to keep a Harlem Renaissance building standing. Some of the repetition becomes wearisome. However, there is a satisfying and simple truth to the main characters trading stories about their home lives, and freely discussing child births and their failing relationships.
Playwright James Anthony Tyler, a member of Harlem’s Emerging Black Playwrights Group, keeps it real. The language is rhythmic, and the negotiations are incessant. The tiers of struggle are felt before resolution is approached. Designers explode the text, producing challenging visuals, including actors in chains. With a jolt of light and motion, moving from static to framed portraits, Technologist and Lighting Designer Kent Barrett and Video Designer Andrew Schneider create some of the quickest, most dazzling sequences. Scenic Designer Marsha Ginsberg breaks theatrical convention by asking the audience to walk on the stage space past the fax machines, copiers, and cell phone cases placed on the wall.
With the possibility of television and theatre merging and colliding, this slick production – with runs, jumps, and slow motion walking through strobe – uses technology to open to a broader conceptual world. Sung introductions raise the bar. In America, where opportunity should be abundant, the Harlem of Dolphins and Sharks looks raised and ready for the debate. Security camera footage and every day television programs on overhead screens add layering and dimension.
Photos: Monique Carboni unless otherwise indicated
Labryinth Theater Company, founded in 1992, promises to bring more groundbreaking work to the stage. Dolphins and Sharks is running until March 19 at the Bank Street Theater www.labtheater.org