Lisa Ramirez’s To the Bone

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NY Theater Review By Marcina Zaccaria

 

In the Cherry Lane Theatre’s 90th Anniversary Season, Lisa Peterson directs Lisa Ramirez’s To the Bone.

 

Unknown-1To the Bone is about Latina poultry workers inside the U.S. It is a gritty production, exposing the harsh world behind food production. Ramirez, who is the author of the successful Off-Broadway production Exit Cuckoo, takes on immigration and hardship in To the Bone. In some ways, the writing is Americana at its best, revealing the heart-warming and heart-breaking realities of farm country.

Ramirez interviewed real people over six months in Sullivan County in New York State to create To the Bone. The workers in the play gut chickens in a chicken factory. After carving them with a knife, they place them on an assembly line. Tensions arise from unhealthy working conditions. As the drama unfolds, we find that the women are more than factory workers. They are mothers and sisters and valued members of their community.

Unknown-2In searching for new opportunities, they find a difficult world where struggle is combined with honor. Ramirez plays Olga. She is able to give a stunning sense of the place, the people, and the moment. It is a politically charged production. Ramirez is unafraid in her portrayal as a factory worker who takes a stand against injustice.

Her supporting cast comes from an unrecognized part of American culture. As factory workers, they seem to have almost no rights, but as they continue forward, they gain strength in unity and the possibility of working together. Together, they tackle issues of violence and faulty supervision. Annie Henk plays Reina. Liza Fernandez plays the distraught Juana, who sleepwalks in a white nightgown. Dan Domingues plays Jorge, the man who drives the women to work. Paola Lazaro-Munoz adds verve to the production with her portrayal as Lupe.

Carmen, played by Xochitl Romero, is the newest factory worker. Needing the job so that she can pay for her mother’s costly operation, she is not proficient in English and hopes to settle in a new country. She combats abuse and poverty throughout the show. Though welcomed into the new community, she finds it to be a largely destructive force.

Lisa Peterson, whose previous Off-Broadway productions include An Iliad by Denis O’Hare, Shipwrecked by Donald Margulies, and Slavs! by Tony Kushner, doesn’t overlook the poetic aspects of the work. Her physical staging is inventive, and she equips her cast with bold gestures. The audience is seated on three sides of the action, and there is a feeling of being immediately in Olga’s house.

Scenic Designer Rachel Hauck does an outstanding job at creating a detailed set with chicken cages, rustic kitchens, and an apartment area with lace curtains. Russell Champa adds blasts of light from behind and above, creating a dimensional world where the audience can feel fear and empathy. Costume design by Theresa Squire reminds us of the utility culture.

The Cherry Lane Theatre is celebrating its 90th year. It has been a literary home for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, and Edward Albee. The Cherry Lane Theatre has been nominated for the 50/50 Applause Award, recognizing “theatres that have successfully created seasons that produce female playwrights.”

*Photos: Monique Carboni

To the Bone runs until October 4th. Tickets are also available at www.cherrylanetheatre.org or through Ovationtix.com.

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