As the name would suggest, Lady Fest theater festival in New York shines a light on womanhood in all its wondrous forms. In the supportive atmosphere of The Tank, female and female identifying artists are provided the opportunity to be heard by youthful spirits of all ages. Currently on stage in the smaller of the two houses is Tornkid, a multimedia fable for the times, presented in partnership with Baltimore Asian Pasifika Arts Collective (BAPAC). Written by Katelynn Kenney, the script vividly illustrates the emotions underlying the immigrant experience, using Southeast Asian and Pacific Indigenous creation stories as a springboard to explore the quest for belonging.
Struggling to fit in with both traditional Asian family life and the typical school experience of American children, Tornkid literally tears themselves in two. Sadly, their other half runs off with the voice, pointing out that Tornkid hasn’t really made use of it. Refusing to be doomed to a life of silence, Tornkid journeys through mystical lands, determined to be reunited with the parts of themselves that have been lost.
Use of the inclusive pronoun “they” to describe Tornkid is significant since exploring identity is essential to both the story and the storytelling technique. Tornkid is pulled apart by two distinct ways of being as well as an environment that constantly shifts between comforting and strange. The actors, too, morph identities as they move from role to role, often employing intriguing masks created by Tara Cariaso and Aaron Elson of Waxing Moon Masks.
The experience is similar to the ones frequently offered at The New Victory on a Saturday afternoon. Typical of myths, the story is very episodic, though the through-line is strong. A dragon-headed magical guide addresses the audience directly, explaining that we are the ancestors. She elicits our help at critical junctures, encouraging us to participate by adding claps, slaps and clicks and other sound effects. Metaphors are creatively made concrete by most of the characters. Each interaction makes Tornkid stronger and brings the goal into clearer focus.
Surasree Das lends tremendous warmth and stirs compassion as she pantomimes her way through Tornkid’s unusual journey. Her most powerful encounters are with a Tree Spirit and a Sea Warrior, two fantastic puppets created by Jess Rassp and given voice by Elizabeth Ung who also provides unique hand-decorated costumes. The narration supplied by the Magic Teller is sometimes stilted, but actress Kim Le sweetly and enthusiastically engages with the audience. Marela Kay Minosa and Mika Nakano round out the cast, playing a half dozen roles between them.
Co-directors Cara Hinh and Donna Ibale don’t yet have the knack for arranging movement appropriately in 3/4 round, staging too much of the action for the center section. But this is a minor distraction with so much creativity clearly in evidence. The puppet movements are nicely choreographed and literally extend the actors performances. There are also wonderful props by Pauline Lamb which draw on childlike images. Sounds not provided by the audience are designed by C. Swan-Streepy with the mystical atmosphere capped off by Miranda Poett’s lighting.
BAPAC’s inaugural production, this second iteration of Tornkid delivers an upbeat message in an inventive way. This worthy work is being hosted at The Tank (312 W 36th Street) a nonprofit that strives to remove economic barriers for emerging artists. Remaining performances of this workshop production are Saturday, August 10 at 3 PM and 7 PM and Sunday, August 11 at 3 PM. Lady Fest runs through Wednesday, August 28. Tickets range from $0 – $25. For a complete performance calendar and to purchase tickets in advance visit www.thetanknyc.org/ladyfest.
The Baby Monitor
The shattering impact of an “I love you” with a “but” clause is at the heart of The Baby Monitor, currently mounted as a workshop production at the 14th Street Y. The plot centers around the suspicions a woman harbors concerning her gay cousin’s treatment of the toddler son he shares with his husband. By fleshing out this nightmare scenario with all-too-common misunderstandings stemming from distinctions in race, class and religion, playwright David Stallings has delivered something far richer than an issues play. It is a thoughtful examination of the ways in which simply tolerating differences rather than embracing them can cause irreparable damage to our societal fabric.
The scene opens on a family Thanksgiving. Rejected by most of his strict Catholic family after coming out, Damon has invited his close cousin Claire and her husband Josh to join him and his husband Phillip to celebrate the holiday along with their two-year-old son and nanny. The evening includes a great deal of reminiscing and chardonnay and concludes with flipping through the new family’s photo album. A combination of tainted religious doctrine and personal frustration leads Claire to react inappropriately to one of the pictures. Her misguided good intentions have the potential to destroy the happiness of everyone involved.
David Stallings, Leo Goodman, Amanda Jones, and Hector Matias. Photo by Michael Dekker
Even at a time when gay marriage is legal and children stemming from these unions are not uncommon, it has been hard for many people to move beyond ingrained beliefs. Stallings realistically explores a variety of viewpoints stemming from these slow-to-shift societal norms. The genuine danger that can grow from preconceived notions is revealed in peeling layers. While there is certainly an ideology that skews left running underneath, the dialogue is stealthy, with little slips of the tongue that indicate early on that Claire’s love for Damon has many qualifiers attached to it. By making Phillip and the nanny Soledad immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Stallings can additionally explore the role culture and class play in the escalating tensions.
Stallings also stars as Damon, a performance infused with deep passion. Héctor Matias is positively dreamy as Phillip, accustomed to keeping up his guard except around the family he clearly adores. Stallings is less successful in his drawing of female characters. Though Amanda Jones strives to manifest Claire’s sympathetic backstory, the character is essentially unlikable and therefore challenging to portray. This is magnified in her scenes with Leo Goodman’s wonderfully nuanced Josh, who is most often given the voice of reason. Greta Quispe similarly struggles to give balance to Soledad, whose personal journey could make for an equally compelling play. However, Mel House is strong in her too-brief performance in the critical role of activist Shelly.
For this production, the black box theater has been set up in 3/4 round with a simple set of padded tiles and wooden boxes. Lighting designed by Kia Rogers is used to shift the setting and to mimic a violent climatic moment. Direction by Stallings’ husband Antonio Miniño is skillful, with an engaging blend of quiet touching moments and palpable strain.
As much as it is a powerful drama, The Baby Monitor is also an important conversation starter. Developed on both coasts of this divided country, it would be wonderful if this work could find its way into the middle. The production contains very brief partial nudity and is recommended for ages 16 and over. It is playing through December 16 at the 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street near 1st Avenue. General Admission tickets can be purchased by calling 646-395-4310 or by visiting www.differenttranslation.com. Prices are $25 for adults and $22 for seniors and students. $5 rush tickets are available 15 minutes before curtain for those living in zip codes 10003 and 10009.