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A CurtainUp Review
Post No Bills

Love has to be ugly. Only then can you make real music. .—. Esteban
Post No Bill
Teddy Canez (Esteban) in Post No Bills
(Photo: Sandra Coudert)
For the characters in Mando Alvarado's new play its title, Post No Bills, is not just a command. It's a location, a performance space, and a way of life. It is the meeting place of life styles and the intermingling of sounds — a delicately balanced hub of creativity. For eighteen-year-old Mexican-American Reyna, it may be the beginning of a career.

Alvarado's play which just opened at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater digs at the soulful questions of why music moves us, and what,t= emotionally, the experience of connecting with music really is. It brings together two disparate, equally broken lives each of which has a hole that is filled by the other, but only temporarily.

Reyna (Audrey Esparza) has left her home town in Texas for New York in pursuit of her dream to be a singer. She has been living on the streets, sleeping on park benches and taking shelter in transit stations. When Esteban (Teddy Canez), a seasoned but jaded musician, offers her something to eat she first tries to fend him off, but eventually accepts. He takes her into his home and under his wing, both cultivating and capitalizing on her musical talents. He hails from a nearby locale to Reyna's and she has known and loved his work for years. However, his success has faded and he now plays in a subway station for money.

Both Reyna and Esteban bear the cross of difficult loss, which likely explains their emotional short wires. She is defensive and vulgar. He is stern and closed off, battling an inability, or at the very least, unwillingness, to let himself love. Canez taps into Esteban's emotional obstruction well for the most part, but occasionally falls victim to the danger of unexpressed emotion appearing as lack of emotion. Though Esteban does not lack feelin Canez sometimes toes the line of emotional emptiness, straining his character's already fraught connection with Reyna.

Reyna's exterior is largely a mask, protection from the harsh world she has entered into. Underneath, she's an idealist, and when the music plays, she is transformed as if under its spell. She remains prone to outbursts, but when she and Esteban sing, her walls strip down, leaving innocence and calm. Esparza's portrayal of Reyna may be the production's most gripping case for the power of musical inspiration.

Their companion at the Post No Bills is Sal (John-Martin Green), a sassy, matter-of-fact blind man who makes his income by allowing people to yell and swear at him for a nominal fee. Easily the play's most likeable character (the cast is rounded out Wade Allain-Marcus as Eddie, Reyna's writing partner and love interest), he remains upbeat in the face of adversity. He is compassionate and perceptive, but also a welcome dose of subtle comic relief in an otherwise fairly intense play.

For all its soulful questioning, the play's biggest pitfall lies within the same vein. In tackling the friction between views of music as either a spiritual experience for a fledgling performer or the expression of pain for one hurt and washed up, there's a self-congratulatory air that sneaks into the writing — verbal and tonal red flags that seem only too eager to point out that a moment is, or is about to be, inspirational and/or poignant.

Alvarado's writing dances the fine line between poeticism and overdramatic sentimentality a few too many times. Its intermittent oversimplification does his characters more injustice: Esteban tells Reyna it doesn't matter that she got booed at a performance, that it happens and she should get over it. Not long after this comment is flanked by , "You want to be a singer, so be a singer" — as if matters were so simple.

But despite the trite moments, what's central to the story remains powerful. Through the music, and music's ability to both separate and bring together, Post No Bills reveals the ugly truth of loneliness, and what happens when you've pushed everyone away. Esteban learns this the hard way, but it is a truth that finally breaks him, in a way that putting his pain into song perhaps never did.

Post No Bills
Written by Mando Alvarado
Directed by Michael Ray Escamilla
Cast: Wade Allain-Marcus (Eddie Harper), Teddy Canez (Esteban), Audrey Esparza (Reyna Escondido), John-Martin Green (Sal Deberry)
Sets: Raul Abrego
Costumes: Ren LaDassor
Sound: Eric Shim
Lighting: Joel Moritz
Original Music: Sandra Rubio
Music direction: Randall Eng
Stage Manager: Melissa Rae Gregus
Sandra Rubio provides original music. Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, (212)-627-2556,
From 11/11/09; opening 11/19/09, closing 12/13/09.
Monday, Wednesday — Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m. br> Reviewed by Deborah Blumenthal based on 11/14/09 performance
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