My Mañana Comes
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
The Fountain Theatre
Through June 26
Immigration issues are bandied about in political discourse in the media every day, but the lives of kitchen workers and janitors and fruit pickers are rarely brought to the stage. Kudos to New York-based playwright Elizabeth Irwin for doing just that.
Deftly directed by Armando Molina at the Fountain Theatre, Irwin’s socially relevant, 90-minute one-act takes place in the kitchen of a tony restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where four hardworking busboys slice fruit, put together breadbaskets, fill vinegar bottles and act as conduits between the chef and the waiters, among a myriad other tasks.
Much of the play registers as a colorful (if at times static) group portrait of these four men, with their diverse conflicts and dreams. But somewhere in the second half an event occurs that transforms this genial comedy (with a few pointed edges) into a political piece with a sharp and meaningful message.
Peter (Lawrence Stallings), the dominant personality among them, is an African-American, a realist who takes pride in his work and whose driving motivation is providing for his beloved 5-year-old daughter. Whalid (Peter Pasco), Brooklyn-born and of Puerto Rican extraction, is studying to be an EMT, a job he covets because it comes with a salary and vacation days, perks that as a restaurant worker he can only dream of.
The other two men are Mexican immigrants: Jorge (Richard Azurdia), a steady worker who saves every dime he can for his family back in Mexico, and newcomer Pepe (Pablo Castelblanco), a sweet-tempered youngster with his heart set on a pair of expensive Nikes, no matter the cost.
Save for an occasional spat, these guys make a good team — until word comes down that their pay is going to be cut, and Peter’s call for a work stoppage is met with skepticism from Whalid and stony resistance from his cowed immigrant colleagues.
Choreographed by movement director Sylvia Bush, My Mañana Comes unwinds smoothly and cohesively. Someone involved in the production (director Molina, a producer, an ensemble member?) understands how to run a commercial kitchen: what needs to be done and the pace with which it has to be accomplished. Observing these details on scenic designer Michael Navarro’s necessarily compressed but realistic looking set lays the foundation for a solid and credible scenario from the start. The performers move swiftly and fluidly throughout, while Jennifer Edwards’ lighting design highlights the scene shifts with compelling dramatic flair.
The charismatic Stallings is a fount of energy, belying the upper-middle-class notion of a lowly worker with limited smarts — which is one of Irwin’s points. Pasco is spot-on as the other U.S. born member of the team, whose knowledge of Spanish is pretty much the only thing he shares with his Mexican co-workers. Azurdia and Castelblanco are fine, but they sometimes skirt cliché; both performances could use more shading and dimension.
My Mañana Comes portrays vulnerable workers who come up against their employer’s hardball tactics. Irwin may not tell us anything we don’t already know, but she spins her story in such a way that its message effectively hits home.
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat-Sun., 3 p.m.; Mon., 8 p.m.; through June 26. (323) 663-1525, fountaintheatre.com. Running time: one hour, 30 minutes with no intermission.