BOTTOM LINE: Good things come in small packages.
The old adage "good things come in small packages" may well have been referring to Desi Moreno-Penson's compact, humorous, and impactful Dos Mujeres now playing at terraNOVA’s soloNOVA Arts Festival at the IRT Theatre. The 30-minute evening is actually comprised of two back-to-back 15-minute, one-person plays written and performed by Ms. Moreno-Penson. The term “plays” here is not used casually — each piece takes the performer (and the audience along with her) on a journey through cultural and self-ascribed stereotypes, tearing them down as she goes.
The first piece begins with an actor auditioning for the role of “crackhead mother.” Performing with a stereotypically thick Puerto-Rican dialect, the actor suddenly stops mid-audition to ask the casting director (who is of course unseen), for clarification on a word that has been written out phonetically for her, the dialect disappearing immediately. While paused, the actor proceeds to describe her struggles with being labeled a “pleasantly ethnic” actress, what she lovingly/unhappily refers to as an exotic alternative actor, or an EAA.
An actor trained at the best programs in the US and England, she enjoys the opportunities being an EAA provides her (such as the audition the audience is currently witnessing), but also struggles to be more than just a label. Since an actor’s livelihood depends on getting the job, “you are going to read it the way they want it,” she exclaims. Although I found the conceit of the piece slightly hard-to-swallow, the exceptional artistry of the performance and play (especially the very last moments), more than made me forget my quibbles.
The second piece revolves around an intelligent and well-regarded scholar of Women’s Studies who feels she is a fraud, teaching but not living a life of passion. Her husband, who also has a healthy appetite for experimentation in the bedroom, wants to spruce up their relationship by having a threesome with a woman who is described by the scholar, at first glance, as being a young, hoop-earring-wearing, thickly-accented, stereotypical Latina (discussed at length in the previous piece). As we learn more about this young Latina, however, the scholar discovers (along with us) that people are never who they seem, and that self-discovery can occur in the most unlikely of places.
Considering how difficult it is to find a well-structured and engaging full-length play with a cast full of talented actors, it's no small feat that Ms. Moreno-Penson, with the aid of director Jose Zayas, has done so twice. I have little doubt that these plays could stand performances by actors other than the playwright, and I look forward to seeing them done as such in the future. For now, I’ll simply revel in the refreshing take on stereotypes, the ten-minute play, and the one-person show Dos Mujeres allowed me to experience.
(Dos Mujeres at the at the IRT Theater, 154 Christopher St. buzzer 3B, New York, NY 10014. Presented by the terraNOVA collective as part of the 10th Annual soloNOVA Arts Festival, May 22 through June 11, 2013. Tickets are $20. Purchase tickets at the door or online at terranovacollective.org.)