Reviewed by Nicholas Linnehan
“It would be a shame to throw the whole strand (of Christmas lights) away, just because of a few broken bulbs”. But how often do we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Just because there are a few bad apples does that mean the whole bunch is bad? These questions can be applied to many different things, but in the case of Alternating Currents, by Adam Kraar, they are deeply rooted in one thing; community. The Working Theater brings us a thought-provoking ethnographic piece of theater (plays based on the real actual lived experience of others).
At our deepest core, don’t we all want to feel like we belong? For newly formed couple, Elena and Luke who met from being part of the electricians’ union, this is of paramount importance. This inner need motivates them to move to Electchester, a cooperative building for unionized electricians located in Queens, NY. At first this seems like a no brainer; who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by like-minded people who look out for each other? And with low monthly maintenance costs, moving to Electchester seems like a dream come true. But as the saying goes: all that glitter is not gold. Lurking under this appearing utopia are racial and gender based tensions that run very deep. This forms a wedge between Elena and Luke who are a bi-racial couple. Can they survive the pervasive undercurrents of class and racial divisions that have taken hold in this place?
The cast is delightful. Liba Vaynberg plays the quirky Elena skillfully. Her need to belong and her need for Luke are palpable. She carries the story along well, as there are many scene changes and shifts from the past to the present. She never gets lost in the midst of the surrounding chaos, which is a salute to her talent. Luke, played by Jason Bowen, is equally impressive. His inner story line is heard loud and clear. These two actors have chemistry and a connection that makes us root wholeheartedly for the success of their relationship. The other four ensemble members shape-shift well playing multiple characters. Hats off to Rheaume Crenshaw and Robert Arcaro for doing this so well. Their transitions are distinct and seamless, which makes the play cohesive.
Doing a play with so many moving parts is daunting and can easily become disjointed and burdensome for the audience. But thanks to strong direction by Kareem Fahmy, we don’t miss a beat. The scenes flow together making this puzzle come together flawlessly. We are never confused as to where we are or who is talking. The credit here lies with the cast and crew. David Esler creates a set that is malleable, fun, and just informative enough to let us know where we are without adding unnecessary detail. A very impressive accomplishment all around.
The Working Theater pledges to bring us five different plays, one from each borough. As this one is the first in their series,this promises to be a worthwhile venture. This is definitely an important piece of theater that they uncovered through their efforts. Bravo to them for unearthing this timely production. If you love plays that not only teach you something, but make you question your values, then go see this play. This is a poignant example of how profound ethnographic theater can be and whatever your beliefs, it has something to teach us all.
Alternating Currents plays now through May 20, 2018 at Urban Stages 259 W 30th St. and then does a tour to all the boroughs. http://www.theworkingtheater.org