By Holli Harms
The description for the new play Candlelight by John Patrick Shanley calls it, “savage and passionate.” I would call it confusing, diminishing, and fatuous. But what IS “savage and passionate,” are the actors, members of the exciting Nylon Fusion Theatre Company, the company who is producing Shanley’s world premiere. Every single actor on stage is committed. Their honesty, their hearts under the knife, their risks are all excellent. Their hurdle is the play itself. They are working overtime to give the story a story.
I kept trying to figure out what this retelling of Romeo and Juliet wants to say and wants to do. In Candlelight, this Romeo and his Juliet are ten-years-old living in the depths of poverty, loss, and desperate need to be understood and seen. Tito (played by the remarkable Marc Reign) and his Esperanza (artfully imbued by the superb Ivette Dumeng) live in Brooklyn and fall in love. Esperanza’s mother committed suicide and her father (the sensational Alfredo Diaz) has plunged into alcohol to soothe his destroyed heart but the drinking makes him angry, desperate, and destructive. Tito has a friend, Paulie (the heartbreaking John Cencio Burgos), who is carrying a secret difficult for anyone growing up in a machismo culture, he is gay and doesn’t know how to navigate his world.
All three of the actors playing ten-year-olds are extraordinary. And that leads to the question why are they ten years old? Because of the age of these character’s part of the play feels like a children’s show, albeit a very disturbed children’s show, but then that’s not the real direction of the play, and again there is no direction for this play.
In her bedroom, the night of her 10th birthday party, which was a success, appear spirits, demons, fairies, and Esperanza’s mother, (the powerful Darlene Tejeiro) who has risen from the fires of Hell. This is where we start to really take a turn into the ridículo. But our actors are resilient and do all they can to make it work, and THEY do.
The play itself is an Asopao dish of spices and meats and vegetables all combined to create a deep taste and smell, but in this case, they don’t meld and blend. Each flavor stands on its own and you want to know why it’s there. That is the play. Incongruent.
The fairy (the radiant Christina Toth) is glowing and funny. She helps move us from scene to scene and then becomes a very important part of Esperanza’s story. The play is about emotions and connections and yet the script itself does not make those connections and artificially forces emotional lives. Not only do we have a mother who committed suicide come back from Hell, and an alcoholic abusive dad become Satan, but we have a large squirrel attacking Satan, aka the father, there are cursing fairies, and talking bathrobes and mirrors.
It’s a delicate balance, writing. Telling the story you want to tell with characters who will create conflict and drama who will complement one another, and dialogue that will not only move the story along but at the same time connect with the audience as well. A delicate balance and if one thing gets out of order the damage is done. But if scenes are disconnected, if you are not sure what you are watching or why or what the writer is trying to say, there is more than damage done, there is nothing worth watching.
The performances are excellent but the play running at 90 minutes feels interminable and falls sadly short.
Keep your eye on Nylon Fusion Theatre Company and director Lori Kee who does her best to make it all work, but alas…
Candlelight, World Premiere Play by John Patrick Shanley, Directed by Lori Kee
Featuring: John Cencio Burgos, Alfredo Diaz, Ivette Dumeng, Marc Reign, Darlene Tejeiro, Christina Toth.
Production: Director Lori Kee, Ali Walensky (Production Stage Manager), Elizabeth Chaney (Scenic/Props Design), Janet Mervin (Costume Design), Wilburn Bonnell (Lighting Design), Andy Evan Cohen (Sound Design), Janet Bentley (Projection Design), Tatyana Kot (Movement / Choreography), Michelle Cuizon (Assistant Director / ASM), Randall Rodriguez (Fight Choreographer, U/S)
Candlelight, World Premiere Play by John Patrick Shanley Directed by Lori Kee
The New Ohio 154 Christopher Street NYC
November 27th, 2021 – December 19th, 2021
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Not appropriate for anyone under 16.
Mask required and must show proof of Vaccination.