“Margarita and Max” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (Closed July 28, 2013)

By Manuel Igrejas
Directed by David Hilder
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What could be more absurd than a talking black plastic bag once home to a six-pack of beer? Perhaps more absurd would be hearing the bag talking to Margarita Mariposa as she waits in Cedar Chips, New Jersey for the bus to Manhattan, or hearing Margarita talking to the bag and taking the bag on the bus with her to her job interview at 1515 Broadway. Conceivably, most absurd would be that the bag “becomes flesh and dwells [with Margarita] full of grace and truth (after John 1:14).”

In Manuel Igrejas’ new post-absurdist play “Margarita and Max,” that is precisely what happens. Playwriting becomes soteriology – the theology of salvation. Margarita has lost her job and her squeeze and with “restless heart” is living just “east of happiness” – just east of Eden. From the void, from nothing really, comes a plastic bag that seems comfortable “just going with it,” unencumbered by nomenclature and norms (like ‘jobless’ and ‘single-again’). The bag “likes” Margarita and engages with her playfully, drawing her from her void and drawing her into happiness. After she “claims” this moment of salvation by naming the bag Max, Margarita sees the world in a new light.

Margarita’s encounter with Max is an extraordinary surreal journey into Margarita’s psyche which leads her to an awareness best described in the character’s own words: “My name is Margarita Mariposa and here I am in the Void. The beautiful Void and I am on the cusp of everything. Maybe there was no Max, maybe there is no me, just an idea of me, as delicate and flickering as a candle’s flame. But at least I give off a little light and, if you get close enough, a little warmth. I know that one good breeze could send me soaring or a puff of breath could extinguish me, but that’s a chance I’ll take, a chance we all take, really.”

As for Max, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going (John 3:8).” The best saviors (and there are many) know when to intervene and when to withdraw. Max will be tossed about until he finds another soul just “east of happiness” and with “restless heart.” He will draw them from their void and return them to the magic in their void renewed of spirit and in the middle of their circle “open to the segment of chance.”

Kim McKean and Craig Fox are perfect in the roles of Margarita and Max: Ms. McKean understands the place of “restless heart” and conveys with spiritual transcendence what it means to transition from a void filled with sadness to a void filled with hope. It is not easy to portray a small plastic bag but Craig Fox accomplishes this task with ease making Max the bearer of “good news” that he is. Under David Hilder’s meticulous direction, these actors deliver Mr. Igrejas’ script with a comfortable passion.

Mr. Igrejas has developed a magnificent script about the very important theme of losing those things which we have allowed to define us and moving forward into new possibilities, new unknowns, unencumbered by nomenclature and norms. His writing here is honest and precise and utilizes all the rhetorical devices at his disposal to create pure persuasive magic. The action moves from reality to fantasy in a deliciously erratic manner. “Margarita and Max” is a brilliant account of the soteriology of chance.