Always quirky, at times whimsical, funny in a dark kind of way, with a soft spot for the marginalized and the underdog, Saviana Stanescu's plays are everything you want a good play to be. They're personal but expansive, full of hope and despair, rooted in more than one culture, and they transcend race, class, and boundaries. Over the years, I've had the chance to see several of them produced here in New York and to hear excerpts of many works-in-process as our career paths keep criss-crossing. Each time, I've admired the unique blend of strength and vulnerability with which she imbues her characters and her ability to marry poignancy and humor. No room for whiny victims here! Saviana's characters are survivors and if they teach us anything, it's to thrive in times of adversity.
Saviana and I have in common the fact that we both write in a language that is not our mother tongue. I know how difficult that can be, not simply because of vocabulary or grammar but because one's reality, which is very much shaped by the way culture inhabits language, is more difficult to express through means that were not specifically designed for it. It's a little like trying to describe a sweater without using any words for color, texture, or feel. But at the same time, I would argue it is especially because English is not her first language that Saviana's plays are so good at finding meaningful connections between people. As Bob, one of the characters of Aliens With Extraordinary Skills, produced by Women's Project in 2008, explains:
When you are forced to pay closer attention to people's words, you actually communicate better. If you both speak English and you both think you know what you're talking about, there's all this room for misinterpretation about what's actually being said. But if you are not sure that the other person is getting you, you check her out, you make sure she gets you. And if... if she's not sure she's getting you, she checks you out, you know, she pays attention until she gets you... And even the silences begin to have some meaning, you know, because you're used to paying attention to each other...
This ability to pay attention to others is really what it's all about and it is reflected in the subjects Saviana chooses to tackle. In what I call her "immigration plays"—Lenin's Shoe, Waxing West (2007 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Full-length Script), and Aliens With Extraordinary Skills—she explores everything from mail-order brides to crippled teenagers to illegal immigrants. But these are far from being didactic plays. Whether it is Ceausescu and his wife appearing as singing vampires or film-noir-type INS officers haunting an illegal immigrant clown from Moldova, playfulness always drives the story.
This wild energy is also reflected in Saviana's multi-faceted talent. In addition to the plays mentioned above, her work includes The Inflatable Apocalypse, written in Romanian; the yet unproduced For A Barbarian Woman, Bechnya, and Ants; the radio drama Bucharest Underground; Vicious Dog On Premises, a text for dance theatre; Dog Luv, written for a video installation; and several short plays which have been presented in the U.S. and abroad. She is a published poet, co-editor of the anthology of plays Global Foreigners, and is involved in many programs facilitating U.S./Romanian artist exchanges. It seems everywhere I look she is there, like a mischievous genie, beckoning me to enter her exuberant world and to listen to people, attentively, as if we didn't speak the same language. In a world where our attention span is shrinking by the minute, having someone gently remind me to pay attention to others is something I cherish and always look forward to.Published on March 26, 2010