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A CurtainUp Review
A View From 151st Street
By Elyse Sommer
This time around the buddy story is wrapped in a crime thriller plot. Heavily punctuated with jazzy music composed by Michael Cain and with lyrics supplied by Glaudini's lyrics for the raps of the play's Mephistopheles, a Harlem drug dealer named Delroy (Craig "muMs" Grant), A View from 151st Street might be categorized as a rap or jazz opera. It's got all the tragic elements associated with grand opera though it's a far remove from anything traditional opera fans would embrace.
While the titular Harlem street is the battlefield where the forces of good (a drug enforcement cop) and evil (Delroy and his competitors on various Harlem street corners) collide, the saga of Daniel (Juan Carlos Henandez) and Ray (Andre Royo) actually began on another battlefield— the desert where the Gulf War was fought. Daniel married and became a cop where the injuries he escaped in the Gulf catch up with him via a disabling bullet from Dwight (Gbenga Akinnagbe), another volatile drug dealer. Ray signed up for a second tour of duty (in Iraq) which led to a crack habit fed by the likes of Delroy and Dwight. It's Daniel's having enough faith in Ray to offer him shelter and Ray in turn helping him after he's shot that drives the plot to its at once downbeat and upbeat ending. Thus A View /from 151st Street meshes the tragedy of the uncounted casualties who return from these wars too emotionally damaged to live normal lives with the tragedy of those whose experiences in the ghetto make them unfit for anything but life as criminals and outcasts on the dark corners of the city's mean streets.
Obviously, this is not for the theater goer looking for beautiful language or relaxing entertainment. The talk is tough, and when spoken or rapped by Delroy often impossible to understand. Even the scenes in Daniel's home when we see the power of family and friendship make the unbearable bearable and the impossible just a bit more possible, are often gut wrenchingly painful to watch since Glaudini does not shy away from illustrating the extent of that bullet's effect on Daniel's ability to function normally.
For all the grimness of the street scenes and those depicting Daniel's slow struggle to regain his lost motor skills, the play delivers a strong picture of the every day aspects of this family's life —the warm relationship between Daniel's wife Lena (Liza Colon-Zayas) and his devoted sister Irene (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is nicely developed. Irene's relationship with a crack user who left her a single mother makes it plain that these are not women to whom heavy duty drugs (unlike their own occasional "smoke-ups") is something that affects only other people.
As Jack Goes Boating proved, Gaudini is not averse to romance and humor, so here we have a gently low-key romance between Irene and Monroe (Russell G. Jones), a detective assigned to give department support to the family—as well as a much needed touch of humor via Mara (Marisa Malone), a Russian nurse who befriended Ray despite his initial hostility when she rather than an American nurse was assigned to him when an overdose landed him in the VA hospital ("How come everyone we fight ends up workin' here?"). The various ways all these characters' express themselves underscores how language can divide them — amusingly, as illustrated by Mara teaching the American Daniel to re-learn the word bicycle with a Russian accent; and devastatingly, as made clear by the way Delroy's muddled rap confines him to a dark world apart from the more socialized occupants of this multi-cultural landscape.
The performances are all quite fine. One is tempted to single out Andre Royo's understated performance as the troubled Ray but every player has his or her moment to shine—and that includes the three-piece band led by conductor Bryan Noll. Director Peter Dubois is once again aided by Jack Goes Boating's set and costume designers David Korins and Mimi O'Donnell to allow the play to unfold with visual effectiveness. Japhy Weideman's lighting ramps up the creepy atmosphere of Delroy's own little corner of the otherwise busy 151st Street, an occasional glimpse of which we see courtesy of a projected image by Luckydave.
Before you opt for something lighter and brighter than this view from a street where inner city life is revealed without colorful candy coating, bear in mind Daniel's plea quoted at the top of this page. Don't give up on theater as a means to look at rather than away from real people living lives of not so quiet and uneventful desperation.
Jack Goes Boating
Dutch Heart of Man
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
The Playbill Broadway YearBook
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide