Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"My Mañana Comes"

"My Mañana Comes"
Elizabeth Irwin
Marin Theatre Company

The Cast of My Mañana Comes
They are all around us, silently hustling and bustling, every time we go to our favorite eatery.  Water appears, hot bread is replenished, and plates are delivered to the right person while we continue our conversations (or flip through our IPhone messages).  What does happen behind those swinging doors in the back to the kitchen?  Who are these people (often 20-somethings, male) of varying colors, shapes, and sizes whom we repeatedly see but hardly notice after our waiter has taken the initial order?  Elizabeth Irwin, in her first produced play, "My Mañana Comes," gives voice to these restaurant workers we so often nobly entitle as “busboys.”  Marin Theatre Company creates on stage, through the meticulously and industrially accurate design of Sean Fanning, a restaurant’s assembly area full of metal tables, loaded shelves, lockers, and vent pipes where napkins are folded; garnishes, cut; silverware, shined; and hot plates of food, readied for quick delivery.  And this is where, as we will see in detail during the play, the so-called busboys change from their civvies into starched uniforms, kibitz and kid among themselves, and work their tails off in order that we, the patrons, can enjoy our night out.  

At a restaurant in upper midtown Manhattan, four men – two American and two undocumented immigrants – carry out in short, slice-of-life segments their shift duties over a 5-6 day period.  Their back-and-forth gabble – a raucous mixture of street talk, Spanish, and slang – unfolds a picture of lives full of stresses most people on the other side of those swinging doors never have to face.  The play becomes an educational seminar where we are taught the daily difficulties of taking home enough pay to buy a new pair of Nikes, to take your girl out to someplace other than Popeyes (like maybe a sit-down dinner at Dennys) or even to have a bed that night to sleep in.  We hear the how nearly impossible it is to deal with a work schedule that weekly shifts up and down in hours and all over the map in terms of time of day – especially when every hour worked in prime dinner times means that a few, extra dollars that could really make a difference this week.  And we see and hear the visceral fear of that one unexpected bill (like a traffic ticket) that eats up the few saved dollars, of the school calling to you have to come pick up your daughter now (and lose today’s work and pay), or of the immigration officer suddenly showing up asking for the papers you don’t have.  For 95 minutes, we witness not so much a play with a plot but a documentary about four restaurant workers who represent those hundreds of thousands across the U.S. who are working long hours of demanding work and barely eking out enough to make it to the next week.  

The strength of this production lies particularly in the four men cast as our instructors and the direction given them by Kirsten Brandt.  Shaun Patrick Tubbs is Peter, an African American father of one, young daughter and, at four years, the longest-tenured member of the team.  Peter has an attractive cockiness and confidence about him that lead the others to take his barking orders with good nature.  He jostles in fun and friendship with the other father and family man, Jorge (Eric Avilés), who has been several years apart from his family in Pueblo, Mexico and lives frugally (taking each night left-over rolls for tomorrow’s breakfast) in order to send most of his meager earnings home to build a house for his three kids and wife.  Both actors bring intensity of purpose, seriousness of their responsibilities, and willingness to do whatever it takes to make it through each day with as many dollars as possible for take-home pay.  Jorge brings the integrity of “I am a man … And a man keeps a promise” that is echoed in Mr. Aviles’ whole countenance and body for commitments, great and small, he has made -- even when the promises of others to him are not kept.  Peter has a different, but equally meaningful definition of integrity, realizing “Shit just keeps on happening, and it has nothing to do with me,” leading him to declare with veins popping, body ready as if for battle, “I am not playing it any more now that I don’t matter” when those same promises are broken by management to him.

Tall, lanky Caleb Cabrera too is of Mexican heritage but is an American citizen as Whalid, a loose-lipped, playful guy who just relishes having enough bucks to enjoy some time with his girlfriend.  He trash mouths a lot, breaks into a few dance steps in between rushing out to service a table, and has big plans to better himself that seem to change every few weeks.  Pepe, also undocumented from Mexico, dreams with fervor of his brother joining him and in one dream-like sequence, describes to his absent brother how wonderful it will all become once he joins him in this exciting New York so full of oo-la-la women, lights, and crowded sidewalks.  Carlos Jose Gonzales Morales’ Pepe has an optimistic naiveté and wonder about him that does not want to listen to Jorge’s admonishments to save his money.  Instead he has sparkling eyes and lit-up face for new Nikes and a Heineken or two after work, even if he does not have the money for next week’s bed in a crowded bedroom with a half dozen others guys just like him.

Seeing these men go about their daily work lives together, facing ongoing and new challenges that can alter at any time their ability to pay rent, get their kid to a doctor, or even stay in this country, is an eye opener.  What is missing, however, in this script is a storyline holds attention after the first several shifts and scenes.  The hustle and bustle of sorting silverware, cleaning up, dealing with dirty linens, and rushing – no running -- continuously in and out to the unseen front of house coupled with so many short scenes covering the several days of the script do not allow much time or attention for character development.  We soon get how hard it is, and we learn quickly the terrible, individual situations these four face.  But only in the last fifteen or so minutes does anything else happen in the story that really captures and keeps our attention.  Those climatic minutes are edge-of-seat in intensity, but there are at least thirty before that are frankly a bit repetitive of the script’s first thirty.  

For me, there is so much to like in Marin Theatre’s production of "My Mañana Comes" in terms of the actors, their messages, and the new awareness that is gained that will never let me sit in a restaurant again feeling quite the same.  But, as a full evening of intriguing theatre, I felt a bit short-changed in between my mid-course yawns.

Rating:  4 E’s

Marin Theatre Company’s "My Mañana Comes" continues through November 22 at the Main Stage, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley.  Tickets are available online at http://www.marintheatre.org/productions/my-mañana-comes or by calling Tuesday – Sunday the box office at 415-388-5208.

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