“The Architecture of Becoming” at the Women’s Project Theatre at New York City Stage II (Closed Sunday March 23, 2014)

March 22, 2014 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by Kara Lee Corthron, Sarah Gancher, Virginia Grise, Dipika Guha, and Lauren Yee
Directed by Elena Araoz, Lydia Fort, and Lauren Keating
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“…People are rivers, always ready to move from one state of being into another. It is not fair, to treat people as if they are finished beings. Everyone is always becoming and unbecoming.”
― Kathleen Winter, Annabel

Five writers, three directors, and six actors collaborate (conspire?) in five short scenes to tackle the sticky business of becoming in the Women’s Project Theatre’s current offering at City Center II. Indeed, the performance space itself is the sixth actor in the ensemble cast with its own history of the search for identity and meaning.

Serving as a trope for the discovery of self, purpose, identity, and (perhaps) utility, the specter of the Shriner’s resplendent Mecca Temple is woven into the story of a young Mexican playwright searching for an idea for a script. Siempre Norteada (Claudia Acosta) casually summons the “spirit of this place” (City Center) for inspiration only to be confronted with the Grande Dame (Danielle Skraastad) who reveals three stories of five individuals who have sought employment in, refuge in, and spiritual connection with the iconic performance space. In fact, the Grande Dame is the “city, the dreams that gather here, the call that draws the dreamers.” She offers “new life, transformation, and beyond.”

The Grande Dame’s stories are “at every moment/Starting /beginning /just now manifesting /becoming.” The three stories are “About dreamers, becomers/who heard/my call and left home/to become someone different, something better, some place far away/Stories from many eras/In many styles, many forms.” She also warns Siempre that she “will see The Cost [they paid for transformation].” Of the three stories, “The Art of Gaman” and “Poetics” are most engaging.

“The Art of Gaman” by Dipika Guha is a story of Shun and Tomomi, a Japanese couple new to New York City in the early 1940s. Jon Norman Schneider and Vanessa Kai give emotionally compelling performances of a couple dealing with the vicissitudes of marriage and the challenges of becoming who they are, including powerful homoerotic undertones and a soulful and chilling rehearsal of the atomic bombing of Japan.

“The Poetics” by Kara Lee Kothran is the compelling story of rappers and street performers trying to “become” in the late 1970s and is perhaps the most engaging of the three stories. Dude (Christopher Livingston) and Kid (Vanessa Kai) want nothing more than to perform at City Center but understand “This place is for the highbrow suckers.” Dude used to watch ballet at City Center before his dad “fell for Johnny Walker.” Dude exorcises the opera ghost from the space but her freedom does not lessen his angst. He and Kid know they are outsiders in a city losing its artistic soul.

A sometimes mysterious postcard (crimpled, folded, faded) connects the journeys of the five following their dream. The stories, including Siempre’s story, are rich in detail, imagery, and abundant in figurative language: a radio becomes a trope for discovery of one’s voice, a vertical bed a trope for revealing the inner workings of a marriage on the verge of failure, and a can of spray paint is a tantalizing trope for a young man’s war on insignificance.

Individuals and cities and buildings become and un-become. Their journeys inspire, offer hope, and warn of danger. They are, however, authentic stories of change and possibility. “The Architecture of Becoming” chronicles the complexities of the art of becoming and does so with charm and the right hint of challenge.