By Mando Alvarado, Jenny Lyn Bader, Barbara Cassidy, Les Hunter, Joy Tomasko, Gary Winter, and Stefanie Zadravec
Conceived and Directed by Ari Laura Kreith
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
“You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase” is a modern day folktale, comprised of 21 scenes, with contributions from seven different playwrights, with an objective to meld a multiplicity of styles into one voice. It goes hand in hand with the mission of the producing company, Theatre 167, to create, cultivate and support new works by artists of wide ranging backgrounds traditions and beliefs. Their name refers to the 167 languages spoken in the community in which they were born, depicted in this magical and mystical tale, as Enchanted Jackson Heights.
Right from the start, as the audience is pleasantly serenaded by a street musician playing guitar and singing in different languages, you become aware of the first obstacle this production must overcome; namely, the inferior acoustics of the space. Sound drifts in and out depending on vocal direction and projection. This combined with the heavy accents afforded by the actors in order to elaborate the different cultures, the speed at which dialogue was delivered and poor projection, made it difficult at times to understand the actors.
There is really nothing wrong with the story. It is a simple, charming parable to express hope, the power of dreams, the importance of trust and the significance of unconditional acceptance and love. Add a spark of mysticism and magic realism and it becomes entertainment that can please a diverse and multi- generational audience. But in order for this to happen on stage the crucial element is a good storyteller, and that is where the second problem comes into play. As told in this production, it becomes a series of fragmented fairy tales, with difficulty in connecting scenes with fluidity and cohesiveness. Perhaps the lost preshow balladeer could have become the connective tissue needed to guide the audience through this complicated journey, if even with just his strolling guitar music weaving transitions more tightly.
The admirable but uneven cast exhibits an earnest attempt but falls short of attaining their goal. Some of this may be attributed to the direction which seems to be sporadic. It is a special type of fairy tale where real people integrate with fantasized events, and must be handled very delicately. The actors succumb to too many stereotypes, at times almost caricatures and the aforementioned heavy accents almost contribute to that problem. The heavy handedness also delineates the characters as being too familiar in the genre, whereas more original depictions would lend themselves to the inspired story.
I applaud Theatre 167 for their integrity and mission. I revere the cast for their dedication, perseverance, and craft. Go and experience this current production and support part of the rich theater scene we are so fortunate to have in this great city.