Ithaca has its own little Off Broadway theatre, the intimate space at the Kitchen Theatre, now in its 22nd season. The quality matches anything, anywhere: one certainly imagines they are in the theater district of New York when sitting in the ‘Kitchen.’
I was swept away by [last month's] offering, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat”, by Stephen Adly Guigis. It is difficult to distinguish which is more brilliant – the script, the direction, or the acting. These come together with a force that snaps the breath right out of you, played out in the landscape of New York’s Nuyorican community and its cultural bonds.
I cannot decide if a key element is passionate hypocrisy or hypocritical compassion. The five characters are written and played with authentic shifts through their myriad fantasies and angst and you are right there with them even when you reject their choices. These five human beings really believe what their twisted, manipulative minds have told themselves. And they are true victims- of circumstance, of code, of their own addictive behaviors and belief system, of “settling” – each a victim especially of his or her own justifications. And each harbors a longing for something they don’t even trust.
Anyone who has experienced recovery programs will begin on a familiar footing with the play’s language, but will not stay there. Those new to the 12 step world will discover a rich but confusing tapestry. Either way, the authenticity will both resonate and confound. The characters Jackie, Veronica, Ralph, Victoria, and Jackie’s cousin Julio move through pipe-dreams, jobs, jealousy, rage, forgiveness, infidelity, violence, despair, hope, acceptance – all in the name of sobriety, with an underlying layer of addiction that binds them together and in a sad, sick way, grounds them. Their collisions are not simply displays of emotions. Each one of the quintet shifts between states of the mind as seamlessly as if the transition was emotionless. Whatever it was, it was real as you, the audience, traveled there too. And just when you expect any one character to slide into stereotype, he/she instead evolves with nuance, depth and vulnerability. Talk about the present moment! It is impossible to be anywhere else.
The quintet of actors is a monster cast out of New York: Vaneik Echeverria, David Anzuelo, Karina Arroyave, Dina Ann Comolli, and Brandon Morris. They are all so top notch it would feel unseemly to single out any one from the group. Director Margarett Perry is no stranger to the Kitchen Theater and I look forward to anything she lays a hand on. This piece, however, is beyond anything I have seen locally in years and her direction of it is a stand out.
Award winning playwright Guirgis is also a screenwriter, actor, director and co-artistic director of New York’s LAByrinth Theater Company. His works reflect ethnic and racial multiplicity and his plays have been produced on five continents and throughout the US. Additionally he has written for NYPD Blue and The Sopranos, among many TV credits. The MotherF**ker with the Hat received six Tony nominations.
Enormous contributions come also from the design team: David Arsenault, scenic; Tyler M. Perry, lighting; Lisa Boquist, costumes; and Ian Crawford, sound.
There are two more opportunities to experience the Kitchen this season:
From May 8 to 19 ” And, Lately…”, a musical theater evening of stories and possible conclusions as a personal inventory of landing in a new place, by Rachel Lampert.
From June 12 through 30 presents Alice Eve Cohen’s charming story of motherhood, our fractured medical system, and the surprising choices that life can send our way. Based on her best selling book, an Oprah 25 Best Summer Books pic, comes “What I Thought I Knew”, written and performed by Alice Eve Cohen.
Any one of these plays is reason enough to visit our little Mecca called Ithaca. You will find so much to do here, but good theatre is one thing not to be taken for granted and here in Ithaca, we appreciate the quality of our theatre.
The Kitchen is located at 417 W. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street in Ithaca
(607) 273-4497 or www.kitchentheatre.org.