Ghetto Babylon

I saw a show the other night that was excellent. Usually I just tweet when something is good but this one deserves more than 140 characters. It’s a shame it only ran the 20th through the 23rd, but so it goes. It was Dramatic Question Theatre’s production of Ghetto Babylon by Michael Mejias and it was performed in the Huron Club downstairs at the Soho Playhouse. If you’ve ever been, you know it’s a small space. Well, the joint was packed the night I went. I don’t know the exact number but I’d be surprised if there were less than 90 people there.

Take that, fire marshalls who don’t have time machines!

What I loved most about this play was that it was about people I really cared about and that they took audience with them during the whole ride. It’s set in the early ’80s in the South Bronx, the summer before three close friends began high school. They’re on a baseball team on its first run to the Bronx-wide championship and things could fall apart any minute. Practically speaking, this means you have actors approximately twice the age of the characters working in a small space and acting out events in several games. Between Michael’s script and the solid work of the actors this was not only possible but damn exciting. There were several genuine moments when the audience gasped and cheered as if they were really at a baseball game.

The cast was comprised of actors with diverse backgrounds, which made the relationships all the richer. Alejandro Rodriguez had the lion’s share of the work with mountains of monologues in his role as the team’s pitcher who lost his mom and might be leaving the Bronx. Alejandro has a real gift for bringing together his character’s inner and outer realities while relating to the audience all at once. Alexis Suarez brought empathy and humor to the tough character Spec, who seemed to be aware that this summer was the best it would be for him for many years to come. Malik Ali had a grace and joy in his role of Felix, the third of this trio. He was often caught between the other characters and it was really interesting seeing him deal with tricky situations. Talia Marrero was an angelic-yet-realistic counterpoint to the guys. The relationship between her Sarafina and Charlie could have been its own play but instead added more to the bigger story of the three friends with each new scene. And Brian Miskell did the neat trick of bringing a fictional character to life. So much so, you’d think he really came out of the book. I even caught myself thinking, “wow, that’s what that guy is really like.” (I won’t say which one here.)

Holy cow, the script was excellent. It is obvious lots of time had been poured into this. The characters speak both intelligently but with the feel of their age and place. It has real laugh out loud moments but also socks you in that damn-life-can-suck place. The whole thing pulled off that nearly impossible thing of being chock full of craft for the theater geeks to appreciate but being so accessible that anyone off the street would be as engaged as if they were seeing Game 7 of a close World Series. You know when you see a movie or read a book and you feel you have become friends with the people in it? You get that sadness that it’s over and you can’t talk to them in real life? I hardly ever get that in the theater but I did the night I saw this show.

Why can’t this be what sets up shop in the Westside Theater for all the tourists to see and say, “wow, I saw some REAL New York theater” when they go back home? I’d like to have this play, Robert Askin’s Hand to God, and something by Parallel Exit take over a building devoted to long-running off-Broadway work.


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