- OnStage Associate New York Critic
It is incredibly inspiring to see well-written and artfully executed plays about transgender and gay people on the stages of New York. It is even more so in the case of “Street Children”, written by Pia Scala-Zankel and directed by Jenna Worsham, currently running in the New Ohio Theatre. Vertigo Theater Company put together a cast of 15 “transgender, queer and gender fluid actors” to take the audience back in time to the late 80’s and tell the story of three queer youngsters attempt to survive in the city.
Angela (JP Moraga), Jamie (Eve Lindley) and Terrence (Victor Almanzar) are trying to come to terms with the reality after the beloved mother of their House of Diamonte was cruelly murdered. Frequenters of the Harlem drag balls, these three are looking to forget their troubles, not by vogue, but with drugs, sex and violence. As they reach out to their families, look to romantic encounters and prostitution, they are rejected over and over until they realize that they only have each other.
All three leading actors sculpt their characters masterfully. You root for beautiful Jamie (full of sarcasm and a dignified portrayal by Eve Lindley), who is striving for a better life against all odds. You feel pain for self-destructing Angela (JP Moraga), especially during her visit to her younger sister after two years of separation. JP Moraga is dressed in a sharp black suit and is wearing the disguise of “Felix”, successful make up artist. He throws money and gifts at his teenage sister, Lala (Yadira Guevara-Prip), in the hope of making peace with her and their mother. But the more he tries to be at ease, the more he scares her. Finally, there is Terrence (boyishly blusterous Victor Almanzar) who is both tough and vulnerable. It’s hard to believe that the very same person can beat up a go-go boy violently and then play make-believe hair salon with Jamie to make her feel better.
The scenery, by Angelica Borrero, depicts a surreal dark alley: walls are covered in murals, the construction pillars of the building are stripped naked, and a couple of metal podiums complete the landscape. In this unwelcoming space, the members of the chorus are wandering around like lost souls while the main action is unfolding in the foreground. Sometimes this movement feels distracting but it also gives the director, Jenna Worsham, an opportunity to move wooden benches between the scenes to create a new setting. The strictly practical rotation of the furniture turns into a hypnotic dance, which sometimes helps to set the mood for the next scene (e.g. Terrence goes to the strip club) or accentuate the props (sculpture of Jesus in Angela/Felix’s mother’s house).
Striking modeling poses, aka voguing, is heavily employed by the choreographers, MJ Rodriguez (also playing Gina) and Tamara Williams (chorus). Numerous dance scenes balance out dramatic dialogues and immerse the audience into the atmosphere of a “Paris Is Burning”-esque setting. Without being cheesy, the dancing elements emerge in the story when words are not enough to convey the overwhelming avalanche of emotions. The loud and eclectic costumes, by Bernat Buscato, complete the overall impeccable style of the production. The style of “Street Children” evokes a late 80’s nostalgia and manages to look very modern at the same time.
The freshness and bold vitality of the approach to historical material is what makes “Street Children” a truly valuable piece of theater. It’s not just a character driven drama set against an 80’s backdrop. “Street Children” is a successful attempt to process the recent history with both heart and knowledge. Seeing it performed by LGBTQ folks who face somewhat new, yet the same, issues almost 30 years later makes you feel how far humanity has gone and how much there is still to fix.
“Street Children” runs through December 17th in New Ohio Theatre at located at 154 Christopher Street. Performances are Tuesdays – Saturdays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $28 and $18 for students, and can be purchased at VertigoTheater.org or by calling 1-866- 811-4111. For mature audiences 16+. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For info visit VertigoTheater.org.