Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the world. A walk from the 7 train to the school where this lovely production was presented offers tempting South Asian and Latino food choices, a glittering gay cabaret, plus lots of characters roaming the streets. The show Jackson Heights 3 AM from Theatre 167 is seven playwrights’ take on a fast-paced but normal evening. Twenty actors in multiple roles seamlessly present stories that mostly connect in the end.
Nakti (Indika Senanayake) and Gita (Nina Mehta) are cab dispatchers who are happy to help people find their way home—if they know where they are now. It is amusing to watch them deduce which arepa stand a caller is nearby. Mikhail (Sergey Nagorny) and Lindi (Flor De Liz Perez) are trying to sneak out of Jackson Heights, avoid their enemies, and make it to the paradise of Disneyland. Devaj (Rajesh Bose) and Salim (Andrew Ramacharan Guilarte) are Bengali cab drivers. Next to Emeterio’s (Marcelino Feliciano) bakery, Salim observes that the poetry-spouting Devaj is in love with Adela (Arlene Chico-Lugo), an Ecuadoran baker who starts her day when he ends his.
Soma (also Indika Senanayake) is an emergency room doctor who sees a lot of drama this night, including wounded drag queen Connie (John P. Keller); Brad (Kevin Hoffman), a hipster with backup dancer ambitions; and belligerent meth-head Leo (J. Stephen Brantley). Meanwhile in a gay bar, Pablo (Ephraim Lopez) meets Jim (Neal Mayer), a cop who came in from Long Island, decided not to spend the night with Leo, and is relieved that he can be “out.” Pablo assures Jim that there’s nothing wrong with being a cop, and takes him home where they meet Pablo’s proud Mexican father (Varin Ayala), for whom no boyfriend is ever good enough.
Young soccer-playing tomboy Alex (also Flor De Liz Perez) shares a moment with drag queen Vanita (Roberto Araujo) at the laundromat. Officers Eddie (Ross DeGraw) and Sam (Alex Kip) attempt to protect the populace but find time to flirt with Alex’s mother, Angela (Cynthia Bastidas). Angela gets some unwelcome attention from Larry (Nick Fehlinger), who has killed the ceaselessly barking dog of his neighbor Ms. Lucy (Josie Whittlesey) but is confronted by Leo. As 3 AM approaches, a traffic accident brings everyone together in the street.
Director Ari Laura Kreith has worked very hard on this show, which is in fact the third of a trilogy of collaborative works. The authors (Jenny Lyn Bader, J. Stephen Brantley, Ed Cardona, Jr., Les Hunter, Tom Miller, Melisa Tien, and Joy Tomasko) researched the general atmosphere of the neighborhood, then created their shared characters. It is entertaining, non-stop action that bursts a number of stereotypes.
Kimberly Dowd’s lighting and Ben Rodman’s sound cleverly help to turn a school cafeteria into so many exciting places. Andrew Lazarow’s projections identify each scene in English, Spanish and Bengali. Georgie Landy’s costumes are what every drag queen should be wearing.
After the performances in Jackson Heights, the show can be seen at Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.