nytheatre.com review by Paul Hufker
August 14, 2009
The aim of theatre, it seems, is to hold that great mirror of the thought and behavior of humanity, with its various amalgamations and degrees of comedy and drama, up to society, and to hope that what is reflected is of relevant social value. That an audience may come away with passionate perplexity, wild wonder, outrage, pity—but always action—is essential. In a world where one million dollars is often needed to produce an off-Broadway play, invocation of the muse is often beset by invocation of the funds. This notion underscores the great importance of the New York International Fringe Festival, and festivals like it. Real theatre, told simply, plainly, truthfully. Crossings is a fine example of theatre of this ilk.
Co-written and co-directed by Amy Sabin Barrow, and Shannon Michael Wamser, Crossings tells the true stories of several immigrants, from every corner of the world, who struggled in their homelands, and longed for life in America. A lengthy interview process where actors and writers spoke directly with immigrants, and internalized their tales, elucidates journeys that were brutal, often illegal, dangerous, and ultimately successful.
The set is bare. The props are sparse. The lighting (while effective) is minimal. The play relies on the talent and commitment of the actors to deliver earnestly and humbly the gravitas inherent in the real-life stories of those around whom the play is centered. The ensemble is tight (though as with any play, a week more of rehearsal might have been needed to get down that last word, that timely cross, that smoother transition—but the message comes across, why be picky?) and focused. Mi Sun Choi and Julissa Roman stood out to me as actors with accents that might have otherwise been impediments for them in a play intended for English-speakers, but in a play about immigrants, their commitment and nuanced performances were that much more compelling. A sarcastic and challenging mock-game show (think socially-motivated SNL sketch) adds some levity, respite from the grim and desperate tales, while also continuing to challenge our notions of the hot-button issue of immigration into the U.S. Thankfully, the play knows that it is trying to tell real stories about flesh-and-blood people, and not draw the audience into a talking-head debate about immigration. On that front, it finds just the right blend. Interesting choreography is implemented as well. In a tense and dynamic sequence, bodies cross the river (presumably the Rio Grande) separating the U.S. from Mexico. The limbs and torsos must make the waves, while also aiding each other in crossing. Here again, the beauty is the simplicity.
Quite quickly, Crossings could have devolved into a very tight, and perhaps very necessary troupe of actors who go from high school to high school to tell the tales of immigrants, illuminating for a young populace the very real trials many Americans are fortunate enough not to have to face. Instead, it is a piece of theatre worthy of an already noble cause, FringeNYC. The power in Choi, Roman, and the rest of the ensemble, supported by humble, earnest, unpretentious theatre-makers, allows Crossings to do what our theatre ought to do: hold up the mirror that evokes our thoughts, stirs our rage, arouses our pity, cultivates America's otherwise absent empathy, and ultimately, hopefully, forces our action.