Anthony J. Piccione
- New York Theatre Critic
By the time I reached my next to last day of covering the Downtown Urban Arts Festival, I had seen a good mix of plays that were phenomenally good; plays which had potential, but perhaps needed further development; and at least one play that was straight-up bad. It truly was an eclectic mix here, as it is at many festivals, and I was left guessing what I’d be in for, as I awaited two more shows in the same time slot that night.
First was Trash Talk, written by Alano P. Baez and starring Dan Haft and Omar Villegas. Mr. Villegas portrays a black homeless veteran who is supposedly in a wheelchair and has a thing for singing, while Mr. Haft portrays a white waste collector with right-wing views on society, and each of them engages in a lengthy conversation on their own lives, how they got to where they each are in life, and about the world as it is and the way they each belief things ought to work. It’s funny at times, and while it does drag on a tiny bit toward the end, it is nonetheless a thought-provoking piece nearly from beginning to end.
After that came Sailing Stones by Juan Ramirez, Jr. Perhaps I’m a bit biased, given that it explores two of my favorite topics in both art and public discussion – mental health and religion – but I couldn’t take my eyes off the action in this play, and found myself actively rooting for the protagonists by the end. It’s a story of a man who hits rock bottom in life and tries to not only starve himself in the middle of the desert, but to bring his religious friend with him, only for the sake of proving to him that there is no God, thus putting his moral beliefs to the test and taking the audience on a ride that keeps them on the edge of their seats. Again, a very fine play, and actors Daniel Jackson, Cristy Reynoso, and Jason Westby all did a fine job at bringing it to life.
At this point in the festival, I think this may be the first performance slot with two shows that were both above average. Both Mr. Baez and Mr. Ramirez wrote compelling dramas with engaging characters, and while there was only one performance for each of them, I hope they will both be able to find a new home for their shows. For now, however, I applaud the playwrights of both these respective shows, and hope to one day see more work from them, in the future…
“Trash Talk” and “Sailing Stones” each ran for one night only at the Downtown Urban Arts Festival on April 26th. For more information on upcoming events at this festival, please visit www.duafnyc.com.