Review: “The Rare Biosphere,” by Chris Cragin Day

About that play last night…

One of the beautiful things a play can do so well is to make a concrete reality of an abstract problem. Many legitimate, competing points of view swirl around the issue of immigration, but the mundane realities of the lives of immigrants’ and their families may swim under the radar of those who make and listen to the arguments about how to handle the problems that have resulted. By focusing on the microcosm in her work, “The Rare Biosphere,” the highly awarded playwright, Chris Cragin Day, compels the audience to think about the smallest unit in the big picture.

Directed with grace and understanding by Christopher J. Domig, the intense 95-minute drama concerns the experience of Sophie, played bilingually and with great sensitivity by Natalia Plaza, who returns home from school one day to learn that her parents have been incarcerated and are likely to be deported. We meet her as an optimistic, high-achieving, functional first-generation American girl, but her American dream suffers a rude awakening when she is compelled to put her parents’ “plan” for this horrible circumstance into action. As she turns eighteen, she is faced with a decision to forfeit her dream of becoming a microbiologist who will study the eponymous “rare biosphere.” She believes that she must do this in order to provide a life for her two younger brothers (represented by offstage voices and onstage toys and clothing). Her own thinking about how to survive clashes head-on with the ideas of a friend, Steven, who wants to be her boyfriend and help her. ZacOwens, as Steve, offers a nuanced performance that details with poignance the evolving understanding of a teenager whose comfortable American dream is disrupted by the unfairness of Sophie’s reality. Sophie and her brothers are citizens, but their freedoms are not equal to those of Steven and his family. Their youth and their family history are both points of pride and obstacles to be overcome.

When I read this play, I decided I would be especially interested to see how the Director, Christopher Domig, also the Artistic Director of the production company, Sea Dog Theater, would direct it to incorporate the idea of the rare biosphere that Sophie wants to research in college — a realm of bacterial microorganisms which seemed, to me, far away from the daily reality of Raleigh, North Carolina. This is a well-integrated production that takes great advantage of the theater space — a three-quarter round auditorium in Calvary St. George’s Church in New York City by integrating special effects lighting and scenic and sound design (Guy de Lancey and Tye Hunt Fitzgerald, respectively) and imaginative movement sequences (Lea Fulton) to gradually let us into the petri dish experiment that is Sophie’s brave new world in the family apartment.

Sea Dog Theater describes its mission as telling “stories of alienation and reconciliation.” I will not spoil the ending here, but I will agree with the producers that “while we debate policy and legislation on a national level, we too often forget the actual people affected at the heart of it.” Watching this play is a great reminder about the human struggle of people to exist in and manage their environments. We don’t need to know much about the “rare biosphere” to appreciate the experience. The production engages all five senses to deliver the message about the biosphere and the family unit. The textbook is a grace note. This play teaches us how to appreciate Sophie’s humble struggle to live the dream.

You should go see this play before it concludes its run on May 19. Ticketing and details are available at Sea Dog Theater’s website: https://www.seadogtheater.org/therarebiosphere

 

 

Natalia Plaza and Zac Owens in “The Rare Biosphere”; Photo by Jeremy Varner

“Maybe We’re Just People”: A Review of “No-No Boy,” a Play by Ken Narasaki

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Chris Doi as Ichiro, leading the cast of No-No Boy

Posted on Medium.com today, my review of Ken Narasaki’s play, No-No Boy, produced by Pan Asian Repertory. The play, adapted from John Okada’s novel of the same name,  focuses on a particular consequence of the Japanese Internment during World War II–loyalty. Performances run Tuesday through Sunday, February 18. Read the review here.

 

About My Weekend: “Arches of Hysteria”

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Louise Bourgeois at MOMA: Arch of Hysteria

This weekend was all about poetry and art in New York City, so it brought up a number of reflections, particularly in the context of some woke thinking by others about sexual harassment throughout the week.
On Saturday, I went to the Museum of Modern Art to enjoy exhibits on Max Ernst and Louise Bourgeois. The Museum was mobbed, but I was able to enjoy some quiet time with a few pieces. Taking the photo above, of Bourgeois’ “Arch of Hysteria,” epitomized the day for me. “Hysteria” has been an unfortunate label pinned on many women—particularly creative artists–in the absence of knowledge about their biology and in ignorance of social limitations. Here is Bourgeois both fighting back against the limitation of the label while illustrating its naked truth. Me, too, as I’ve been saying all week.
In the evening, I had the honor of attending a retrospective of Poetic People Power, a project founded by Tara Bracco. Starting 15 years ago, the group, now comprising 35 diverse poets, takes a social or political issue and creates performance poems around the subject. Bracco had chosen a representative work from each year, and the poets returned to perform, sometimes with a video assist. The evening was agitating, as promised, and while reanimating concerns about big issues—such as, water, democracy, consumerism, inequality, violence, and social media, the ending was anything but  depressing. What makes this group so powerful is that this group puts its action where its words are, founding arts collectives and therapeutic workshops, nonprofit solutions for climate and water issues, some eschewing careers in corporations to educate children, others helping to found multicultural organizations such as Pilipino American Unity for Progress. Their optimism that action can bring about change ultimately creates an uplifting, often transcendent evening. You leave the event wanting to do something! P3, as it is known to fans, will be focusing on bringing its shows to schools and other groups who want to augment their educational efforts on social issues. Thanks to my friend, the artist Shetal Shah, (cite IMDB) for keeping me in the loop about this project all of these years. Kudos to Tara Bracco for doing the hard work of keeping this movement going.
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Program from P3 at 15–Poetic People Power/Agitate

We have so much work to do. Sigh. In a week of so many sad revelations, how refreshing to hear Bill Murray, Jan Vogler, and friends perform highlights of West Side Story on The Late Show, ending with the emphatic reminder, “Puerto Rico’s in America!”

A Day of Chandeliers and Awesome Food

 

IMG_0001 Chihuly at NYBG

This week’s excursion brought me to the New York Botanical Gardens for the Chihuly Exhibit, which will be on display until October 29. 2017. This site-attuned exhibit will bring the ooh’s and ahh’s to your lips. Colors and shapes, each more dramatic than the one before–Seuss-like Chandeliers, Spikes, Flora, Geological formations that tease the fountain sculptures–this is a rich experience for all ages. I spent the most time at the Fountain, where I found the beautiful icy rock-like sculptures were so organically integrated with the metal sculptures, as if they had always been there. Alas, they won’t, so go soon! If you are without a car, there are two convenient transit ways to go on the Gardens’ Directions Page here. There is plenty of nature to enjoy at the Gardens–the water lilies are in beautiful bloom right now–plan for a long visit so you can see it all!

IMG_0004 Chihuly chandelier

Not far away, I made the pilgrimage to New York’s northern “Little Italy,” Arthur Avenue, rewards the pilgrim with tasty fresh foods, made the old-fashioned way–fresh mozzarella, pasta, vegetables–markets and specialized shops to take home some. I went in quest of that creamier mozzarella, Burratta,  but, alas Calabria’s (home of the famous “meat chandelier”) only begins to make it on Tuesday so it wasn’t going to be ready on Thursday…a weekend trip back sometime will be necessary if the fresh mozzarella I had to buy is any indication of what to expect.

I dined in high deli style at Mike’s Deli in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, surrounded by all manner of Italian delicacies. Huge portions. They wrap to go!

Afterwards, I took a stroll to find bread and at least look at beautiful pastries. Purchases done, I relaxed with an iced latte at the pleasant café, The Prince Coffee House (air-conditioned or sidewalk seating). The ceiling is covered with latte pitchers–great atmosphere for this coffee lover! Sorry, I cannot tell you about the pastries.

IMG_0003 Ceiling Prince Coffee House

The Arthur Avenue neighborhood is a brief sliver of New York, so you could pass through quickly or have a leisurely lunch and an excellent stroll in and out of the stores. A New York gem to visit.

 

Morning at the Oasis

A small garden on the High Line in New York City.

This month Beyond Beige will detail some exciting urban travel. Yes, urban. Looks like a garden in the country, right? Nope, it’s the High Line in New York City–one of the unexpected pleasures of this mile plus walk above Chelsea. It’s pretty crowded most of the day, so it is wonderful to come upon reflective spaces in this beautifully conceived park. Chic apartments are beginning to obscure the Hudson, so go before it’s gone.

Lunch at Chelsea Market‘s The Green Table, and organic, locavore eatery, was delicious. While the service during the busy lunch hour was a little absent-minded, the outstanding mushroom pot pie made up for it. Great exercise and whole wheat  with delicious vegetables made this a guilt-free day!

On the walk back, I enjoyed some fun public art–graffiti sculptures by Damian Ortega–Here is #2:

Graffiti Sculpture on the High Line by Damian Ortega, #2.