Off-Broadway Review: “Dolphins and Sharks” at Labyrinth Theater Company at Bank Street Theater

Off-Broadway Review: “Dolphins and Sharks” at Labyrinth Theater Company at Bank Street Theater (Closed Sunday March 19, 2017)
Written by James Anthony Tyler
Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

When recently entering the Bank Street Theater for the production of “Dolphins and Sharks,” the new play by James Anthony Tyler produced by Labyrinth Theater Company, I felt as though I was at a theatrical site-specific location. This is all due to the remarkable use of the small space, impressive attention to detail and encompassing the up close audience with paraphernalia familiar to an office supply chain that also provides printing and copying services. This is credited to the exceptional craft of scenic designer Marsha Ginsberg and her creation of Harlem Office, located on 125th St., between Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. and Fredrick Douglas Blvd., in Harlem, New York City, where the narrative unfolds. Mr. Tyler’s real and colloquial dialogue is on par with the surroundings but unfortunately the themes resonate as cliché and the characters appear as stereotypical. The proceedings and plot do not offer any new information or constructive solutions to several systemic problems addressed, such as gentrification, unfair low wages, power struggle, racism, work ethic, office politics honesty and betrayal.

An opening scene with projections and the sounds of chains, shows the cast in dim light in a line, lifting and picking, provoking the thought of slavery, forced to work in inequitable circumstances. It is a powerful image but is soon diminished as this technique is used thought the play in between scenes sometimes elevating to an annoying level, bombarding the audience with loud music, sounds, strobe and rotating video projections trying to heighten the existing conflicts but the result in befuddles the senses. This is definitely a high tech playing field which obviously brings it into the noted year of 2014 where all this social and economic discord still exists and although a passionate effort, in essence, it does not offer any new revelations.

Under the fluid direction of Charlotte Brathwaite, the extremely competent cast earnestly tries to overcome flat scenes with undeniable energy, swift dialogue and excellent timing. Pernell Walker serves up Isabell Peters with a big heart and quick wit providing a sense of reality to every scene. Flor De Liz Perez portrays a sensible yet cunning Xiomara Yepez. Cesar J. Rosado portrays a sincere Danilo Martinez with an equal combination of honesty, sincerity and vulnerability. Chinaza Uche provides a passionate Yusuf Nwachukwu, desperate and determined. Pernell Walker releases the undying spirit of a past generation in Isabel Peters with intelligence and clarity.

Despite these admirable performances “Dolphins and Sharks” is like the cash drawer at the Harlem Office at the end of the day. It comes up short!