By Jennifer Barclay
Directed by Joe Minoso
produced by Teatro Vista
At Theater Wit, Chicago
Freedom, NY tries to cover too much in a short 75 minutes
When Jennifer Barclay’s 75 minute drama ended it felt so incomplete that I wondered if the producers forgot the second act? Freedom, NY is a vague allegory about trust, tolerance and the lasting effects of violence on a small American town. The play uses black/Latino race relations to tell its cautionary tale of small town prejudice.
This three person show features underdeveloped characters that elude to but never fully explain their fears or their hang-ups. We meet Justice of the Peace Mayflower (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) who rules the small upstate town of Freedom, NY like a dictator dispensing common sense justice. After a school shooting that left several middle school girls dead, Mayflower smothers her granddaughter Portia (Paige Collins) by keeping her confined to their house. Mayflower’s over protectiveness is a reaction to both the school shooting and her lose of her daughter who abandoned Portia years ago. The play never fully develops that plot, it only eludes to it through nasty phone messages Mayflower leaves for her daughter.
When Gabriel (Desmin Borges) moves in next door to Mayflower, Portia greets the Mexican immigrant but Mayflower is coldly suspicious since Gabriel has dug a grave-like hole in his front yard. Mayflower and the town’s people (who constantly call the Justice of the Peace) vent their intolerance and bigotry toward Gabriel due to both his Mexican nationality and his peculiar behavior. Is he trying to bury someone he killed or what?
This slowly paced 75 minute drama finally, after about 30 minutes or so, has Mayflower and Portia asking Gabriel why is he digging a grave? Having Gabriel often talking to someone not present (Is he talking to himself out loud?) also casts a shadow on his mental state. Gabriel further complicates his underdeveloped character by at time sounding uneducated and other times a keen observer of life. We simply need to know more about Gabriel, Portia and Mayflower to understand and empathize with them.
Playwright Jennifer Barclay under develops her characters while not setting up nor fully explaining their fears that motivate this play. She also didn’t make it obvious what Gabriel was doing with the grave and with the spirit items he adorns the site with. In passing, Gabriel explains the traditional Mexican ceremony Dia de Los Muertas (The Day Of The Dead) that he is trying to honor his departed mother. Many in the audience didn’t get the reference.
I left Theater Wit feeling that I didn’t see a complete play – that not much happened and yet too much was presented with little motivation from characters – I never got to appreciate this play. This murky play’s vagueness left me scratching my head wondering what I missed? Then I realized that there simply wasn’t much there in the first place. If Barclay desires to deal with border relations as the press notes indicated, she needs to make a stronger storyline and more fully present her characters. As presented, Freedom, NY feels unsatisfying.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 12, 2011
At Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, IL, Call 312-666-4659, www.teatrovista.org, tickets $25, $20 seniors/students, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 75 minutes without intermission, through June 12, 2011