41st Humana Festival of New American Plays includes two Caribbean-focused plays

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For the full Mike Fischer review of the festival click here.

Here’s what he had to say about the two Caribbean-focused plays.

Nuclear Families

Basil Kreimendahl’s “We’re Gonna Be Okay” – one of the two remaining, more broadly focused and ultimately more successful variations on this theme of familial entrapment – takes place during the Cuban Missile crisis.

As with “Cry it Out,” “We’re Gonna Be Okay” features two neighboring families nevertheless differentiated by class.  This time, it isn’t newborns that bring them together, but the bomb shelter they build on their property line, just in time for President Kennedy’s vow to stare down the Russians and their missiles.

But the bigger explosion threatening these two families involves that great awakening known as the 1960s, as two housewives wonder why they’re so unhappy, while two teens wrestle with their sexual identity and two husbands wonder what’s happened to the certainties they’d once known, involving loved ones morphing into strangers.

Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas’ “Recent Alien Abductions” takes such estrangement to an even more extreme place: It opens with a 25-minute monologue in which Álvaro (Jon Norman Schneider) invokes an episode of “The X-Files,” set in Álvaro’s own Puerto Rico, as a metaphor for his sense that he himself has been abducted by a family of aliens.

And no wonder: Álvaro’s family has become alien to him, propelling his flight to New York and ensuing efforts, there, to write his way out of the abuse he endured back home.  We’re a long way from “Airness” in this dark and disturbing piece, but the two plays share the dream that we might transcend our circumstances – including our families – by making something new from what we inherit.

 . . .

“Recent Alien Abductions” Sandwiched by the otherwise unseen Álvaro’s two amazing monologues – smart, introspective, sardonically funny, and attuned to the relationship between culture and belief – the less successful middle section of Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas’ play portrays the family that destroyed him, triggering his flight from Puerto Rico and ensuing suicide in New York.  The family members we meet in that section can play as caricatures, but that’s because they truly are monsters.  Without overstating the case, Cortiñas draws parallels between the abuse endured by Álvaro and what Puerto Rico must endure from its big brother to the north. 

 “We’re Gonna Be Okay”  Playwright Basil Kreimendahl profiles two neighboring families so focused on the Cold War abroad that they often miss the signs suggesting how rapidly things are heating up at home, where two desperate wives and two misfit teens try to make sense of a world they never made.  With two exceptions – a working class dad and his teen daughter, terrifically played, respectively, by Scott Drummond and Anne-Marie Trabolsi – Kreimendahl’s characters rarely transcend their presentation as predictable types.  But the dialogue among all six characters in this comedy is funny.  Many of the scenes they share transcend the all-too familiar pattern of endlessly recurring two-person conversations.  The play’s central conflict – between an outmoded vision of the American Dream and all the outsiders it stifles – is real and credibly presented. 

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