NY Theater Review by Sandi Durell
You can feel the tempo and rhythm of a well- managed kitchen. It has its own hum like this one in an upper east side restaurant where four busboys perform their daily patterned routines.
The fast talking chatter begins as amusing, lots of profanity and street talk as the four interact to wile away the boredom and dullness of repetitive tasks – cut the lemons, fill the bread baskets, roll the napkins, bus the food in and out of the kitchen.
Peter (Jason Bowen), a married family guy from Harlem, seems amazingly happy and contented as he runs the kitchen and the group dreaming that, one day, his young daughter will own a restaurant; Jorge (José Joaquín Pérez) stays nose to the grindstone having given up any extras to save all the money he has over the 4 years he’s been working in that kitchen so he can go back home to Mexico and live a nice life with his family; Pepe (Reza Salazar) is the new guy waiting for his brother to come from Mexico so he, too, can work alongside Pepe in the kitchen. He is starry-eyed by Nike sneakers, dance clubs and pays weekly for a bed that he shares with many like him and he is frightened; born in Brooklyn Whalid (Brian Quijada) is the loud, laughing foul mouth know-it-all, striving for more, beginning studies as an EMT humorously using Pepe for ‘dummy’ practice – if here is the circus, he is the clown. And so we get to know each of them in dream-like sequences.
They are friends of sort, talking about the American dream, chiding each other, sharing stories and seemingly content in their jobs with the commonality of hoping for better lives.
It is coming on summer when the weekend business slows and they have to rely mostly on shiftpay as tips grow less abundant. However, there is now a new policy in effect that has left them all in a tailspin – no more shiftpay – allowing Elizabeth Irwin (playwright) the opportunity to highlight the trauma and tension of how each of these men handles this life-changing situation as they must deal with less money – their responses and feelings as they see their hopes and dreams crumble; the fear, the anger. Do they strike as one group and walk out? Do they allow themselves to be disrespected?
Friendships and alliances are challenged as betrayal and survival emerge.
The play’s underlying current of social and political edge are ever present; illegal immigrants, the poor under-privileged workers, the low pay, the bosses who take advantage, are all brought into focus under the seamless direction of Chay Yew in the well stocked kitchen designed by Wilson Chin.
The actors are top-notch choices bringing their characters alive with gritty reality as Peter pointedly remarks “This is everybody’s real life.”
The 95+ minutes, without intermission, move swiftly by at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, NYC. 212 279-4200 www.ticketcentral.com