Reviewed by Judy Richter
Presented by TheatreWorks, this Pulitzer Prize-winning play focuses on two sets of people.
The real family is two cousins, Elliot (Miles Gaston Villanueva) and Yazmin (Sabina Zuniga Varela), in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in North Philadelphia. An aspiring actor, Elliot was wounded in Iraq and now works at Subway. He's haunted by a ghost (George Psarras) from Iraq. Yazmin is a recently divorced Swarthmore professor of music.
Their aunt, whom Elliot calls his mother and whom he cared for, dies of cancer. She reared him after her sister, his crack-addicted mother, gave him up.
In the meantime, his estranged birth mother, Odessa (Zilah Mendoza), who has since kicked the crack habit, administers the virtual family on an anonymous online chat room for other crack addicts in various stages of recovery. Her handle is Haikumom.
This disparate group includes the 50ish Chutes&Ladders (Anthony J. Haney), an IRS employee; the 20ish Orangutan (Anna Ishida), a smart-mouthed Japanese American; and the newest member, Fountainhead (Patrick Kelly Jones). He's a 30ish entrepreneur on his way down because of his addiction, which he tries to hide from his family. He's having a hard time kicking the habit.
Over the course of the two-act play, several characters take tentative strides to improve their lives and/or to connect with others, but it's not easy.
Intelligently directed by Leslie Martinson, each actor portrays a distinct, interesting character confronting challenges.
Erik Flatmo's multi-level set creates defined spaces for the action, augmented by Erik Scanlon's projections and Steven B. Mannshardt's lighting. The character-specific costumes are by Anna R. Oliver. The sound design by Gregory Robinson includes works by pioneering jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, whom Yazmin cites in one of her lectures.
All of these elements add up to a compelling theatrical experience.
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