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“Mother of Pearl” Review
The loud, energetic and contagious House rhythm, the dancing and a party of bright psychedelic lights took complete control at LaGuardia Community College’s Main Stage Black Box theatre. The old vibe of the 1980s made the whole stage shake and gives attendees a vibrant appetizer before continuing with the story of Mother of Pearl, the main course of the night.
The LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (LPAC) hosted the first of three consecutive performances of the play on Thursday March 21st, 2019. An audience of nearly 40 people, including students and the general public, were introduced to the dancing world of Mother of Pearl, which is part of a series of 11 theatrical productions of the 6th Rough Draft Festival 2019, an initiative that aims to celebrate the creative process of different artists by presenting their works in progress.
The play was written by Nathan Yungerberg, who wanted to recreate the essence of old school house-music-scene in New York City of the late 1980s. Those times where many clubs such as the “Paradise Garage,” located in Hudson Square, were the sensation among people of different ages and backgrounds who got together to sweat it out on the dance floor.
Yungerberg managed to combine the jubilation of a loft party along with the drama and sentimentality that “explores how tragedy can divide even the most close-knit communities while questioning the stability of youthful pacts of solidarity, unity, and inclusion,” as he described his play in the GoFundMe website that accepts donations for this workshop production.
Mother of Pearl used the flashback technique as its main device to shape a story that began as fun and happiness and turned into suffering and hostility between its characters. This is the experience of a group of 6 survivors of a voracious fire that took the lives of 90 people in a house music club in New York. The tragedy became one of their worst nightmares, separating their united and happy lives with rancor. Now, after 30 years, this tribe of six meet again, putting on stage their pain, their passion for house music and a forgotten love that used to keep them together as a family.
“It was me, my mom, my brothers, and my sister…” says an unknown voice as the lights go down. A black woman, dressed in a pink skirt, blazer and black heels, went onto the stage talking on the phone, without leaving aside her professional appearance and elegant walking. This is Leslie (C. Kelly Wright) and her lonely presence on stage was interrupted by the arrival of a Latina, tall, and very thin. Maria, played by Edna Lee Figueroa, is her name. They looked at each other. They argued and shouted, showing that the only thing they feel is hatred.
Their heated discussion calmed down a bit with the arrival of DJ Jester ( James Sosa Jr.), a guy in jeans and sneakers sitting on a wheelchair, who tried to appease the anger of both women. “You told me she wouldn’t be here,” Maria yelled to Jester, and he reacted singing “pardon me,” imitating a deep, funny voice.
The next performer is Julius (Brian D. Coats), a black man, dressed in a brown suit with a camera hanging from his neck. He was followed by Martin ( Joel Leffert), an old white man, very well-dressed with a suit and tie, holding a walking stick. Unlike Leslie and Maria, they seemed to have a better relationship that is demonstrated as their bodies move to the rhythm of the house drum beat.
However, there was someone who also felt the unpleasant discomfort during the reunion. Christopher, played by David Anzuelo, suffered the rejection of the entire group on his arrival, being the character that appeared on very few occasions. Chris almost begging affirmed that his presence was necessary because “he is one of the six” and the only thing he received in response was a slap from Maria.
Mother of Pearl’s director, Zhailon Levingston, who has credits in other theatrical productions, such as Neptune and The Years That Went Wrong, created a dramatic piece that unfolds little by little. The story was revealed in small parts through the interactions of the characters and constant flashbacks through videos ( from the characters’ past) projected on the wall. Thus, it is possible for the audience to put together the puzzle, learn about the characters and understand how their lives were connected many years before.
Levingston, not only did a great job of mixing the facts of the past and the present in a clear way, he also succeed in creating an atmosphere of curiosity and suspense in the audience, which invites us to stay until the end to know the truth from the mouth of the protagonists themselves.
Unlike typical plays in New York, Mother of Pearl mixes dialogues in Spanish and English, with certain Latin expressions that marked the presence of Hispanic roots during the whole performance. As well as, highlighting the diversity of the House music environment in New York.
Dante Jeanfelix, 25, a Latin New Yorker whose friends invited him to view the production said that he can very much relate to the play. “I grew up in a Puerto Rican household,” he said. “It just rings so true for me. I think more stories like this should be told.”
This proposal of diverse content that combines dance, house music, and bilingual dialogues, is also reflected through the multiple emotions that occupy a place on the stage, allowing actors to expand and show their skills in order to touch the audience’s hearts. Memorable scenes like that of Julius with Martin, as they embrace and cry in the middle of the stage. Or DJ Jester recounting his experience at the time of the fire and remembering the death of his brother Pinto, causing a lump in my throat and a feeling of nostalgia and compassion, which was clearly seen in the deep gaze of the audience towards the center of the stage.
Julio Chaves, a 26-year-old Fine Arts student and staff assistant, considers Mother of Pearl, a whole world of different emotions, a completely “strong” play.
“It made me feel happiness, sadness, sensitivity. All kinds of feelings together. It was incredible,” said Julio smiling.
But what undoubtedly turns Mother of Pearl into a valuable play, is the deep message it conveys about real friendship and, above all, love of family.
“It was me, my mom, my brothers, and my sister. And being with my family was like heaven. I love my family,” the entire cast repeated, echoing the voice coming from the underneath dance floor, lying down and holding their hands as they probably did 30 years before.
At the end, the thrilling house rhythm is played once more, while the actors invite the audience to dance and rekindle the same energy of this musical revolution that became a landmark of New York culture.
Mother of Pearl is not only responsible for showing on stage these valuable memories of the house music era, which for many, is a golden decade. It also reminds the audience about real life situations, in which resentment seizes hearts, separating friends and families. But, only a matter of time before the powerful Mother of Pearl “brings people together and heals our collective wounds.”