Reviewed by Marc Wheeler
As a national dialogue on income inequality and immigration reform takes center stage in America, Elizabeth Irwin’s playful yet deeply potent My Mañana Comes is a timely immersion into the very real struggles the working class face as they attempt to keep their heads — and those of their families — above water.
Set in the kitchen of an upscale Manhattan restaurant, My Mañana Comes — directed by Armando Molina for The Fountain Theatre — follows the lives of four busboys whose behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle allow this fine establishment’s wealthy clientele to enjoy the “good life.”
Jorge (Richard Azurdia) is a Mexican immigrant who works and saves (and saves and saves…) hoping to one day build a dream home for his family across the border. Pepe (Pablo Castelblanco) is also a Mexican immigrant, though unlike Jorge, is a fresh-faced youngster who’d rather not deprive himself of life’s simple pleasures. Whalid (Peter Pasco) is a Latino ladies man from Coney Island who talks a big game and speaks of “greener pastures,” but who’d rather stare into his phone when responsibility calls. And finally, Peter (Lawrence Stallings) is an African American New Yorker who eschews futuristic dreaming to live in the now, busting his ass to make life work for him and his family.
My Mañana Comes is specifically written to be performed by actors of color, yet is targeted for audiences of all shades (a welcome treat to both acting and theatergoing communities). Furthermore, while it’s adequately accessible to English-only attendees, the show’s experience is heightened to those who comprenden even un poquito de Español.
Race and cultural explorations don’t end there, however. The politics inside this Upper East Side kitchen run deeper than the frequent boys-will-be-boys banter (“Ride my nuts, Brooklyn taco” being my personal favorite.) Stakes get raised and lines get drawn — eventually.
The play’s set-up is a long one. Endless “shop talk” and expository chit-chat make up the large initial chunk of this 80-minute piece. While the players are often charming and their unfolding’s quite engaging, significant conflict doesn’t arrive until late in the game when the restaurant’s management decides to cut the busboys’ shift pay, a decision that results in disbelief, panic and ultimatums.
Performances are largely solid. Azurdia’s Jorge is serious and pensive as he plans and saves for a better tomorrow. Castelblanco’s Pepe is endearing in his innocence, yet layered in hopeful desires. Pasco is winsome as the handsome Whalid, yet this dreamer’s head-in-the-clouds persona is likened with Pasco’s notable line-flubbing. Lawrence Stallings is dynamic in his portrayal of Peter, an often charismatic team player who takes pride in his work, and whose passion bleeds into radicalism when livelihoods and equity are threatened.
Scenic design by Michael Navarro in tandem with Dillon Nelson’s props and set dressing earn high marks for their superb recreation of a kitchen in an upscale eatery. Jennifer Edwards’ lighting is especially exceptional in the show’s stark, intimate moments as well as its more colorful, fanciful transitions — transitions that movement director Sylvia Blush maximizes by having cast members float as if in hopeful dream (or is that drown as if in deadly waters?) toward their fated tomorrows.
Stephen Sachs is producer. Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor are co-producers. James Bennett is associate producer.
At its heart, My Mañana Comes is a testament to human dignity, giving visibility to the unsung heroes who are the lifeblood of the American economy. Despite its meandering beginning, it ultimately prevails in its affecting characters and provocative ending. As the rich get richer on the backs of the poor, and as defamation of minorities and immigrants amid threats of walls plague our daily headlines, My Mañana Comes shows what can happen when a match strikes desperation, thus begging the collective question, What will our tomorrow bring?
Photo (above) by Ed Krieger: Peter Pasco and Richard Azurdia