Anthony J. Piccione
- New York City Critic
About two years ago, during my last semester of college, I had the chance to serve as the dramaturge of a one-act drama called Medusa’s Tale. The play was a fascinating mixture of both Greek mythology, as well as the exploration of contemporary issues of gender and sexual assault. During that time, I came to respect and appreciate this play, as well as its author, Carol Lashof. It’s a big reason why this past weekend, I was intrigued and eager to see Ms. Lashof’s latest work, The Melting Pot, during its premiere at the Access Theatre.
Set at the turn of the 20th century, the play focuses primarily the romance between a young Christian from Russia named Vera and a young Jew she meets in America named David. Given the era this relationship is set in, when anti-Semitism is deeply widespread – far more so than it is today – this relationship is often looked negatively on, including by the families of Vera and David, respectively. While it feels as if this time period can sometimes feel purely historical, as the play’s program notes, there are many obvious parallels to the modern-era, where xenophobia and bigotry remains widespread throughout the United States, which shine through clearly.
Under the direction of Alex Keegan, the play is staged in a minimalistic, almost Brechtian fashion. The actors are all onstage throughout the show, seated in a rectangle of chairs when it is not their scenes, and occasionally even interact with the audience. The tech consists of a mostly consistent orange lighting design, as well as a backdrop of large suitcases to reflect the moment of arriving with nothing but that in New York City, and a minimal amount of set pieces beyond that.
In terms of the cast, Ty Gaines stands out as having a charming stage presence in the lead role of Vera. Some other highlights include Isaac Allen Miller, an engaging character actor who brings to life the role of Quincy Davenport; and Maya Jasmin, who delivers vivid emotion in the role of the Nurse; and John Blaylock, who captures the sinister nature of the character of the Baron. The cast is rounded out by Matt Dasilva (David Quixano), Franz Jones (Mendel Quixano), Talia Reich (Kathleen) and Rochelle Slovin (Frau Quixano).
Overall, this was a well-written play, and one of the better pieces I’ve seen brought to life so far this year. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of those plays that gets better over the course of the night, as the relationship between Vera and David progresses and evolves. It is a play that captures the lives of Jews and immigrants in the early 20th century, while also showing us how the essence of the problems our world faced over a century ago have never really left us. In that sense, it’s a political drama just as much as it’s a love story, and I’m sure it’s one that will be sure to start a conversation among those who see it.
“The Melting Pot” – presented by Everyday Inferno Theatre Company – runs at the Access Theatre from March 16th-24th. For more information, please visit www.everydayinferno.com.