Kimber Riddle and Kim Brockington in LUZ.
BOTTOM LINE: An immensely talented cast helps to make this play feel realistic and convincing despite the very dramatic material.
In her new work Luz playwright Catherine Filloux tackles the difficult, heavy hitting issues of the rape and abuse of women in third world contries as well as the continued destruction and explotation of the envioronment in these countries. Filloux explores the intersection of these two issues, creating an ecofeminist work that connects the abuse and destruction of women’s bodies to the destruction of our planet. The play focuses on Alexandra (Kimber Riddle) who works as a pro bono attorney at a corporate law firm. Her work in the firm serves to make up for the daily evils the firm commits, including a parallel storyline in which a professional comrade works with a client who heartlessly plots to destroy the ecosystem of another country, effectively killing of an entire population of swans, simply to gain access to oil. “Oil is the true currency of our world,” he smugly notes with a smirk.
Alexandra looks on with cold detachment while her trio of female clients describe the horrorific rapes, beatings, and forced backroom abortions that their bodies have endured. Her blank, thin face absorbs these horror stories with the expression of a woman who has seen far too much of the world’s pain. Her main client is Guatemalan Luz (Julissa Roman), a now fragile woman who spent years as the rape vicitim of her wealthy employer. She tells Alexandra that she was warned by her grandmother that women who are raped cannot squeeze through the narrow window to heaven because their souls have become too large. This leaves Alexandra to gaze at the ceiling and ask if she will still make it into heaven. In an imagined scene, her three sexually violated clients appear at her table while she describes the story of her own brutal rape, the reason behind her coldness and her relentless drive to save these women and find them asylum in America.
Filloux successfully tackles some dramatic issues and gives them enough relatability to avoid falling into total sentimentality. Of course, given the subject matter, there is near constant drama and tears, including an operatic number in which an oil stained swan sings about its own tragic demise. The obviously gifted cast sells the constant tragedies the best they can, while in lesser hands the script would quickly feel over the top. Peter Jay Fernandez and Lynette R. Freeman shine in particular as they take on multiple roles, the energy Freeman imbues her roles with makes up for the (intentional and effective) coldness of Riddle's portrayl of Alexandra.
One smaller thread in the script additionally explores how technology is both a damaging force and yet also one that enables activists to give attention to the plight of those in troubled countries. It is shown as a way to allow the media to be in the hands of the people rather than the corporations. In one scene a journalist tweets about a pregnant Hatian woman in need of medical attention, giving a voice to one stifled by the corporately dominated planet.
Through Luz, Filloux has laid the framework for what could be a powerful and timely work, but as is, the play simply hints at larger issues and a harsh critique of a world and a legal system that values technology and profit over human rights. With further fleshing out, Filloux could create a truly powerful peace able to more effectively explore global tragedies.
(Luz plays at La Mama First Floor Theater, 74a East 4th Street, through October 14, 2012. Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:30PM; Saturdays at 2:30PM and 7:30PM; and Sundays at 2:30PM. Tickets are $13-$18 and are available at www.lamama.org or by calling 212.475.7710.)