By Marcina Zaccaria
City of No Illusions provides the right bit of magical realism, in a larger, more pointed discussion about living space and the afterlife.
Written and Directed by Paul Zimet, it has a glimmer of humor, wrapped within the larger, blunt recognitions about death that could surround us, at any time. The play takes place largely in a funeral home. Death is everywhere with cadavers being prepared for viewing. Business as usual coordinates with issues of border crossing, immigration, and placement.
Jack Wetherall is a standout as Daryl, who speaks about the new Restland Resort Condominiums site. Wetherall speaks directly to the audience, and every bit of his sales pitch is believable. Dead people are to be buried on the site, while the living inhabit their new vacation property. With this monologue, Playwright Paul Zimet seems to be winking at the audience, rallying them to understanding.
“Truths” become revealed over time. Gabriela, played by Veraalba Santa, is a keeper at the funeral home. She has visitations by her mother, a guiding force, as she makes friends in a somewhat confusing land. With flawless gestures and a great sense of pride in her fight, her choreographed action is, in itself, a symbol of her rebellion. Throughout the play, she will connect with her spirit world, charging forward and looking conflict directly in the eye. Another refugee is Saad, played by Eden Zane. From Syria, he shows adept skill at working in the funeral home. With effortless grace, we track the whirling circle of his dance. In time, those around him will comply with specials agents and Immigrant and Customs Enforcement.
While angling at the truth, the production company, Talking Band, seems like they have been working a lifetime, seeing issues from all sides. In fact, Talking Band has been performing for 44 years. Original members include Ellen Maddow, Tina Shepard, and Paul Zimet. Since 1974, they have won 15 OBIE Awards and often perform abroad.
The rhythms of their speech show their years of dedication to the refugees and the people who have seen the barbed wire in the distance and made it across to a new land. We know they’re comfortable with another world, but where exactly can one find the door? With a zapping sound effect, each actor carefully steps through lit portals. They never really take three steps forward or three steps back and figure what world they are in.
A traveling track with violin, keyboard, and drum, composed by Ellen Maddow, persists. The sound is a little bit post-modern, a little bit folk, and only slightly electric. The best part might be the lyrics, which echo the action, and seamlessly weave back to the spoken text by the actors, who carry accents from their native lands. Though it could be tighter rhythmically, music by Shadow Band members Goussy Célestin, Dawn Drake, Marija Kovacevic provide connective tissue serving the larger dramatic structure.
Looking at the fog at the end of the show, each member of the cast dances into a haze. Theatre techniques as old as these are built, refreshed, and shared at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. However, the truth is, what makes City of No Illusions unique is that it is a bit gruesome, while simultaneously being joyous. The most memorable thing about this play is the script that cuts into the psyche, asking the audience to take a careful and deep look at the journey that some might take to the afterlife.
Photos: Suzanne Opton
City of No Illusions is playing at La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, The Downstairs, located at 66 East 4th Street, NYC. thru February 24 – www.lamama.org