Off-Broadway Review: “Dolphins and Sharks” at the Labyrinth Theater Company
OnStage New York Critic
When recently entering the Bank Street Theater for the production of “Dolphins and Sharks,” the new play by James Anthony Tyler produced by Labyrinth Theater Company, I felt as though I was at a theatrical site-specific location. This is all due to the remarkable use of the small space, impressive attention to detail and encompassing the up close audience with paraphernalia familiar to an office supply chain that also provides printing and copying services. This is credited to the exceptional craft of scenic designer Marsha Ginsberg and her creation of Harlem Office, located on 125th St., between Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. and Fredrick Douglas Blvd., in Harlem, New York City, where the narrative unfolds. Mr. Tyler’s real and colloquial dialogue is on par with the surroundings but unfortunately the themes resonate as cliché and the characters appear as stereotypical. The proceedings and plot do not offer any new information or constructive solutions to several systemic problems addressed, such as gentrification, unfair low wages, power struggle, racism, work ethic, office politics honesty and betrayal.
An opening scene with projections and the sounds of chains, shows the cast in dim light in a line, lifting and picking, provoking the thought of slavery, forced to work in inequitable circumstances. It is a powerful image but is soon diminished as this technique is used thought the play in between scenes sometimes elevating to an annoying level, bombarding the audience with loud music, sounds, strobe and rotating video projections trying to heighten the existing conflicts but the result in befuddles the senses. This is definitely a high tech playing field which obviously brings it into the noted year of 2014 where all this social and economic discord still exists and although a passionate effort, in essence, it does not offer any new revelations.
Under the fluid direction of Charlotte Brathwaite, the extremely competent cast earnestly tries to overcome flat scenes with undeniable energy, swift dialogue and excellent timing. Pernell Walker serves up Isabell Peters with a big heart and quick wit providing a sense of reality to every scene. Flor De Liz Perez portrays a sensible yet cunning Xiomara Yepez. Cesar J. Rosado portrays a sincere Danilo Martinez with an equal combination of honesty, sincerity and vulnerability. Chinaza Uche provides a passionate Yusuf Nwachukwu, desperate and determined. Pernell Walker releases the undying spirit of a past generation in Isabel Peters with intelligence and clarity.
Despite these admirable performances “Dolphins and Sharks” is like the cash drawer at the Harlem Office at the end of the day. It comes up short!
DOLPHINS AND SHARKS
The cast of “Dolphins and Sharks” features Tina Fabrique, Cesar J. Rosado, Flor De Liz Perez, Chinaza Uche, and Pernell Walker.
The Creative Team includes Marsha Ginsberg (scenic designer), Zulema Griffin (costume designer), Kent Barrett (lighting designer), Justin Hicks (sound designer), Andrew Schneider (video designer) and Samantha Cotton (production stage manager). Production photos by Monique Carboni.
Performances of “Dolphins and Sharks” will take place February 9 – March 19 on the following schedule at Bank Street Theater, located at 155 Bank Street in Manhattan on the following schedule: Tuesday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $30–$40 and can be purchased by visiting labtheater.org or by calling 212-513-1080. Running time is 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.