review: gated

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Gated

By Marisa Marquez
Directed by Danny Williams
WorkShop Theatre Company with
Midtown International Theater Festival, Isa Company
4Hawk Productions and Leviathan Lab
at The Main Stage Theatre, 312 West 36th

July 13, 2011 — July 30, 2011
production web site:  http://www.isacompany.org/isacompany.org/

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
July 23, 2011

(L-R) Christopher Kloko and Marisa Marquez. Photo: Lia Chang / Dan Applegate

Playwright and actress Marisa Marquez embraces in her play Gated a 21st century version of a familiar meme: take a hotel (as in the 1932 movie Grand Hotel) or an apartment building (as in the 1954 movie Rear Window) or any congregate living situation, and create reasons to peel back the veneers of each house or apartment.  In this case, we enter high-priced homes with the residents of a gated northern California suburban community, sometimes with real estate agents, to unpack the stories of the inhabitants within. We have no discussion of whether any of our residents are over their heads financially, as a hug proportion of residents in such McMansion developments were in the 2007 of our play. The appeal of this rich story telling construct is —  who knows what stories might be happening behind closed doors?  The possibilities are many, the acting is quite fine, the writing is uneven, there are a number of sequences that resonate so much more deeply and completely than the others that they may merit separate plays or provide a view into this playwright’s current true voice.  The stories she is aching to tell.

Seven fine actors portray 17 characters, ranging from the panel of real estate agents extolling the virtues of gated community living that begins, links and resolves our play’s action to a wide range of short stories, limited glimpses into a set of the community houses.  On the small stage of the Workshop Theatre Company, director Danny Williams and a limited set and sound design frame our stories sufficiently and efficiently.  The issues are with the particular stories, and the uneven quality of their truth.  Some examples.  We have stories of mothers in their 30s who act like cartoon characters (one suspects the other of child abuse or neglect), of clueless parents talking to an adolescent daughter who is getting over a breakup, of a several-years-married couple bemoaning several months of sexless coexistence (and lingerie enticements to shift the course of these events).   These story lines come off as distantly observed rather than engagingly felt. Where the playwright shifts gears into a whole new cohesive world, creating characters that feel true and complex and you begin to engage at a whole new level, are two stories in particular — intriguingly and perhaps tellingly these stories both involve the playwright as actor.  One involves a young recent college graduate (played by our playwright) in conversation with her immigrant father, and decisions about staying or leaving America.  A second story that feels rich and potent and ripe for further explorations is a piece involving a couple looking at one of the community houses with their real estate agent (played by our playwright again), and the different games the characters play with one another to achieve their dreams — sale of house, establishing a dream home, finding love.  There is a real playwriting voice here, and a charming stage presence.

A final note.  The roller coaster of recent years screams to be mentioned with this framing of life in overpriced McMansion-ville.  Real estate like the new remote high-priced bedroom community of our play’s world has been melting, crashing, exploding over the past few years.  To place this story in this world (just prior to the crash) without acknowledging that seems strange and sets up a huge challenge to the world of this play before any action begins.  Perhaps the ongoing housing market mess is too recent a phenomenon to so blithely locate these assembled stories in such a community when these stories could just as easily have been placed in any upper class living situation — a co-op in New York, an established suburb outside Chicago.

© Martha Wade Steketee (July 25, 2011)

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