Working Theater’s Five Boroughs/One City Initiative
By Sandi Durell
Written by Adam Kraar, Alternating Currents is rooted in community, specific communities that have been researched by five teams of writers, directors and other creatives in an effort to enlighten by creating theater for and about working people in the five boroughs. It’s a touring production making its way through Queens, Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn.
Every community has a story to tell, some unique, many of commonality and this particular story emanates from and is about the residents of Electchester, producing its own brand of sizzle in an urban housing cooperative community in Queens, built through the vision of Harry Van Arsdale, who took leadership of Local 3 (at the time predominately white) of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Its residents consist of Union workers. It has all of its own amenities, including a bowling alley and is managed by the workers, not bosses. Nearby is the public housing development Pomonok.
Keep in mind that the play, directed by Kareem Fahmy, is the outgrowth of hours of research and interviews with actual residents of this community; of listening to what many had to say through story circles, by hanging out at bars and walking through the streets to absorb the culture and atmosphere.
This particular story is about newlyweds Luke (Jason Bowen) and Elena (Liba Vaynberg), a racially mixed couple, both electricians who have moved into their love nest in Electchester. They are happily busy as they go about their work as union electricians, taking time to install their own apartment track lighting, hugging and kissing, while listening to the noisy neighbors above. The story is narrated by Brian Sgambati, who also plays several characters.
The comings and goings of the couple are integrated with union leader Sal (Robert Arcaro) who makes it clear that belonging and serving the community spirit helps to move one further – join the bowling league, the committees, the clubs, volunteer and get involved all for the betterment, security and safety for all. This appears easier for Elena who is friendly and willing, but not for Luke, who feels the racial inequality looming behind the scenes causing him great discomfort. There are flashbacks that take us on a journey to Luke and Elena’s life prior to moving to Electchester, which seem more than needed. Taking steps back in time reference the appearance of Harry Van Arsdale and the significant role he played showing the steadfastness of the community in the past and the changes that have taken hold in more recent years causing division in the community.
We are privy to various aspects of daily lives while visiting the laundry room, the bowling alley and on the streets, exposing the problems of living so close to Pomonok housing, where some residents are of questionable character, and drugs, robberies and murder can be common occurrences.
In the mix of the story is Luke’s cousin Sean, a rocker (Rheaume Crenshaw, also playing Sharonda) who lives in Pomonok but crashes at Luke and Elena’s apartment where he experiences more friendship and self worth. The pressures of living in such close proximity with great expectations at Electchester, however, serve to create a wedge between the loving couple causing them to split.
Antoinette LaVecchia is the additional cast member who plays a variety of roles including the woman in the laundry room who is fearful of Luke when caught alone with him.
The simple but effective set design is by David Esler with lighting by Scott Bolman, sound by Lawrence Schober and costumes by Dina El-Aziz.
So what’s the bottom line? Is there a bottom line? The take away is both a positive and a negative . . . living in this utopian based grouping certainly creates a feeling of belonging, common goals and friendship. However, it has its inherent problems of divisiveness based on race and bias and the pressures of group expectations. It makes a point that if you cooperate and move along with the group you can also move further along individually. Give to get. Surely a good experiment in learning about human behavior. The competent acting team furthers the contradictions raised in this environment.
Alternating Currents continues at Urban Stages, 259 West 30 Street thru May 20. Run time, approximately 90 minutes.
The production dates at other communities are: May 16 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts; May 22-24 Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island and May 26 at RiseBoro Youth Center in Brooklyn .
Photos: Kevin O’Leary