Review by David Walters
Javier Muñoz’s charm and the twinkle in his eye is what makes this play compelling to watch. He’s going to let us in on a little secret, is what he seems to say and we follow him as our signpost through this twisting and turning, doubling back-on-itself, convoluted script.
An actor, a good actor, brings themselves, body and soul to the work they do and is able to give life to the story they are telling. What an audience sees is part author and part actor. Mr. Muñoz is all of this production. Every audience hopes that the script an actor gets to ride on is a worthy vessel to venture out on the trip we take together.
If it wasn’t for Javier’s compassion, empathy, and ability to ride on top of the heartbreaking tragedy of his character and not wallow in it, this would have been a truly tedious piece of cathartic writing. It begins and ends with the same conceit to life, “Time heals everything,” and, “It’s about time.” The journey in between is fuzzy and unfocused, and again, if it wasn’t for Mr. Muñoz, we wouldn’t have felt we’d really been on any kind of journey whatsoever.
In order to escape the hell of his life (“hell is an endlessly breaking heart”) and find the reason for his pain and the holes in his soul, the Man (Muñoz), a former classic-theater-quoting physics professor, takes a job as a traffic-sign holder at construction sites watching the razing of old authentic buildings and spaces to make room for newer modern ones.
But as we all know, you can’t ever escape yourself, and we find out through the following 90 minutes about the death through cancer of his seven-year-old son and the emotional pressure it created that drove away his wife and daughter. He is stuck, safely guiding others, but for him, “The sun rises and the sun sets, but it’s always Wednesday 3:44PM.” Time may heal everything, but if you’re not passing through it, it can’t do its job.
His traffic sign with the split personality, which he names Fred, with STOP in red on one side and SLOW in yellow on the other, becomes a guidepost to not only direct traffic, but to also help shed some light on the life he led that got him to where he currently is.
There is a moment when he goes to heaven only to be thwarted in seeing his son and is returned to earth for a second chance to guide logging trucks with Fred as they clear-cut a national forest (“Grief like a chainsaw gouging away at my heart”).
Ok, I have to admit, some aspects of the script and story were lost on me and just stood there in front of me like an un-demolishable wall. At some point, I gave up trying to get over that wall.
“How daunting life can be,” but with Javier Muñoz as my guide, it can’t be a bad trip.
A Sign of the Times, written and directed by Stephen Lloyd Helper, starring Javier Muñoz.
Creative team includes sound design and original composition by David Van Tieghem, costume design by Soule Golden, lighting design by Caitlin Rapoport
A Sign of the Times, through April 4 at Theatre 511 (511 West 54th Street).
The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission.
Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.asignofthetimesplay.com