I had not previously heard of The Playwrights Realm, a theater company “dedicated to serving early-career playwrights” that offers a year-long residency culminating in a full-scale off-Broadway production. On the basis of Elizabeth Irwin’s new play at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater until September 20, I would say they have a sharp eye for talent and a commitment to high production values. Irwin’s workplace drama with comedic overtones presents a vivid slice-of-life about four busboys in an Upper East Side restaurant. Peter (Jason Bowen), a black man with a child, is the senior among them and the only one who takes professional pride in his work. Two busboys are undocumented Mexican immigrants; frugal Jorge (José Joaquin Pérez) left wife and children behind almost four years ago to earn enough money to build them a new home. Spendthrift Pepe (Reza Salazar) is a recently arrived young man who dreams of saving enough to bring his younger brother to New York. The junior busboy Whalid (Brian Quijada), a second-generation Hispanic who lives with his parents and has vague dreams of getting a civil service job, teases Jorge and Pepe mercilessly. We follow the four through their daily rounds at work and learn what pressures in the outside world make their lives difficult. A crisis at work puts each of them to a test of solidarity. I do not generally like the use of monologues, but Irwin has skillfully incorporated them here. The actors are all very good, particularly Bowen and Pérez. Chay Yew’s direction is seamless. The set design by Wilson Chin is worth arriving a few minutes early just to admire; he captures the details of a working kitchen right down to the scrapes on the walls. Moria Sine Clinton’s costumes are excellent. The play illustrates the personal dimension of large social issues, including immigration policy, race relations, exploitation of the vulnerable, the corrosive effects of poverty. Irwin shows a lot of talent and I look forward to seeing what she does next. Running time 1 hour 40 minutes; no intermission.
NOTE: The Peter Jay Sharp Theater (the smaller upstairs theater at Playwrights Horizons) has less than ideal seating. The seats are directly behind each other rather than staggered and have no padding on the seat backs. If you have back problems, bring a cushion.
QUESTION: Why would a character who is identified as Hispanic be named Whalid, a name I have always thought was of Arabic origin? Ideas, anyone?