by Erin Browne
Directed by Heather Cohn
Featuring Matt Archambault, Sol Marina Crespo, Mike Milm, Raushanan Simmons
Flux Theatre Ensemble
The Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street at Washington Square South
January 21, 2012 — February 11, 2012
production web site
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
January 21, 2012
- “Sometimes a story begins after a person is gone.”
- “People hear what they want to hear, whether they’re listening or not.”
In the off-off-Broadway historic Judson Gym theatre on Washington Square South, bleachers, tiled panels, poetic language and horrific theatre-reality combine for a powerful experience in Erin Browne‘s Menders. (Forgive me some gushing about the space here, as a new-ish City resident, theatre explorer, and one who respects the smaller theatres with big impact and long histories all around town, my first visit to the off-off-Broadway bastion Judson gym was kinda resonant.) The Menders story unfolds as a kind of Twilight Zone episode — old-fashioned storytelling with flashbacks and surprises and a few bouts with stories involving couples in a time-warped distant past or possibly a present (we may never know for sure). On the other side of a wall. The wall concept provides beginning and ending bookmarks via Robert Frost‘s poem “Mending Wall” with its theme of two New England neighbors walking along their stone property bounding fence, and the poem’s powerful closing line, oft-repeated in this lovely play: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Walls. Borders. A few short decades ago, talk of a protected cement wall people yearned to cross over and were willing to lose their lives in the attempt meant only the Berlin Wall separating the East and West Berlin created by the post World War II Berlin Soviet-era reconstruction. Today, this wall could mean the U.S.’s southern border, or a range of other locales. It is a historical political reality and a present U.S. southern border political flash point. In this play this word evokes borders between people, between present and past, between realistic present and a fantastic imagined possible future.
Within these possibilities, the world of our play involves three sets of characters. Corey (Sol Marina Crespo) and her cousin Aimes (Isaiah Tanenbaum) are young trainee wall menders (keeping people in or keeping people out, they and we are not quite sure), who begin training with Drew (Matt Archambault), an established mender. We learn that Aimes is a delicate boy, and is a cousin of female Corey, in a world of single sibs and tenuous family relationships. As they are trained and walk the fence with Drew, they are told stories of Lila the angel (Vivia Font) and farmer Jeff (Mike Mihm) (she lands in his field and he deals with the fact of her), and investment banker Ash (Rushanan Simmons) and sun-allergic book store clerk Tam (Ingrid Nordstrom), women surviving in a nameless city, seeking solace, ultimately with each other. And our mender trainee Corey makes a key decision about all the information she has taken in including something she observes between Aimes and Drew that drives the balance of her life.
This is a morality play and a set of relationships, each with a twee aspect that may bring a smile (a set of wings, a stringed instrument) yet at the core is need and the search for love. Truth. A successful ride.
© Martha Wade Steketee (January 23, 2012)