Directed by Nadia Foskolou
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
It is ironic that by refusing to go to New York City, his last opportunity to escape into freedom, protagonist Tiago (Josue Gutierrez Guerra) is murdered then pushed off a thirty-nine foot sail boat wrapped in sailcloth. He begins his descent into death’s memory vault and launches into his role as unreliable narrator extraordinaire. Tiago’s remarkable and mind-splitting postmortem narrative is corroborated real time by his most recent boss at the orchard where he worked as a migrant laborer on the quiet peninsula in Northern Michigan where Brazilian Boy Tiago ran and swam headlong into the worst apparition of the American Dream.
That phantasm is the wealthy college boy Tommy Vaughn (Kellan Peavy) and his lonely closet cougar mother Mrs. Vaughn (think Mrs. Robinson of course) who dutifully spend summers on the Peninsula hoping father-husband will visit as infrequently as possible without his flow of cash being interrupted. Boy meets boy meets mother and unabashed craving and hope spiral out of control in Nathan Wright’s impeccably crafted new play “Peninsula” currently running at the New York International Fringe Festival.
“Peninsula” is a chillingly brilliant telling of Tiego’s journey from his shanty town in urban Rio de Janeiro via Florida to the orchards on Northern Michigan. In this telling, time and narrator blur and blend and past and present coexist and collide. Tiago’s life in poverty in Rio with his girlfriend Lily (Vanessa Bartlett) is interrupted by hustler Nelson (Marc Sinoway) who sees in Tiago not just a trick but a way out of the Brazilian favela that has imprisoned him all his life. Feeding on Tiego’s narcissism and sexual openness (as do Tommy and Mrs. Vaughn in America), Nelson recruits Tiago to join him in his final “drug deal” in Rio.
This story is juxtaposed with Tiago’s life in the United States and his childhood life in Brazil – a life strewn with poverty and violence and death – to create a character and plot-driven script filled with suspense, secrets, sexuality, and serendipities rendezvous. Just as Tiago was a pawn in Rio’s socio-economic suffering, he remains a pawn in the games Tommy and Mrs. Vaughn play as they attempt to use Tiago to cope with and anesthetize their socio-economic ennui. The mother and son Vaughn are despicable soul-less characters whose racist and elitist cores are captured with surgical precision by Angela Atwood and Kellan Peavy.
As Bennett, the only character genuine character in the play, John Zdrojeski delivers an honest and powerful performance as Tiago’s boss who simply wants to connect in an authentic way with a young man to whom he is attracted with genuine concern. Vanessa Bartlett’s Lily and Marc Sinoway’s Nelson are powerful reminders of the distortions caused by poverty and loneliness. Both actors create believable and disturbingly honest characters caught in desperation.
The tour-de-force performance is delivered by Mr. Guerra who gives the audience the internal life of a beautifully handsome migrant worker who cannot escape the poverty of his home or the racism and elitism of America’s (and the world’s) one-percent. This actor creates a Tiago with depth and richness as well as with sadness and longing. He does not waste an expression, a movement, or a glance. When he captures the eyes of an audience member, that fortunate guest will see Tiago’s soul in all is splendor.
Tiago’s “crazy fish story” is one of the most well-crafted stories to grace a New York International Fringe Festival stage. Nathan Wright’s brilliant writing, Ms. Foskolou’s flawless direction, and the ensemble cast’s perfect performances combine in “Peninsula” to seduce the soul and quicken the mind of its appreciative and fortunate audiences.