When you spend your life dreaming, what happens when you finally get what you want? In a New York barrio, a female impersonator ignores the advice of an imaginary grandmother to fall in love with an insatiable scientist; in a Key West circus, two acrobat sisters are divided over the ghost of Ernest Hemingway; and in revolutionary Havana, a man who wishes he had wings yearns to fly away to another land. Three seemingly disparate stories weave together in a clever combination of science fiction and magical realism to create an eccentric environment that is as unsettling as it is irresistible.
On the Wings of Revolution
A woman growing wings in a cocoon of rage, an acrobat falling in love with the ghost of Ernest Hemingway, and a trans prostitute donating body parts to a demigod's "bigger better bang" project may at first sound unrelated and unrelatable. But as these fantastical storylines intertwine in Boomcracklefly, a universality emerges from the singular plights of its well-defined characters.
The tensions underlying every life and relationship form the basis for Miracle Theatre's world premiere of Charise Castro Smith's ambitious new script. Deftly directed by Miracle's Artistic Director Olga Sanchez, the capable ensemble struggles with choices between work and love, the consequences of revolution, unquenchable desire and dissatisfaction, and the entropy of existence. The tone oscillates from comedy to drama and back again, ultimately showing that perfection is boring and life is defined by conflicts and triumphs.
A less successful vacillation, however, can be found in the dialogue; some affecting passages are poetic and literary, but much of the play is overwrought with unnecessary pop culture references. With such timeless and universal themes, Boomcracklefly needn't dumb down itself with references to the Kardashians, Brangelina, Whole Foods, and multiple uses of the words "crap" and "barf."
The technical demands of the show are formidable; creative solutions of sound (designed by Dug Martell) and light (Kristeen Crosser) support the story more than the sparse set and props manage to, and seamless scene transitions keep the momentum up. The Miracle delivers a strong, compassionate production with a timely message, though I can't help but think this play could really soar with a rewrite and a theater with more resources.
Passion, ambition and love, delicately balanced
Smith's different storylines begin in three different locations.
In the South Bronx, we meet Fulana de Tal, a lonely transvestite. Played with a beguiling blend of sauciness and sincerity by Tyler Andrew Jones, Fulana becomes involved with The Phoenix (Stephen Lisk). Part ardent revolutionary, part mad scientist, part impetuous boy, part passionate lover, and part dangerous megalomaniac, The Phoenix is torn between his affection for Fulana and his need to make a perfect world. Fulana gives this lover more than just her heart; she gives him a pinkie, a hand, a leg, and a kidney. Morbid, yes, but remember we are voyagers in the fantastic world of magical realism, where the lines between extraordinary and ordinary are playfully blurred.
The second storyline set in Key West centers on two acrobat sisters: the practical Lenin (Emily Gleason), who dreams of success in the entertainment world, and the whimsical Lennon (Kylie Clarke Johnson), who only wants the love of Ernest Hemingway's ghost (Randy Patterson), an apparition that she alone sees.
The third begins in Castro's Cuba, where Rocco Russo (Anthony Green) an architect under house arrest dreams of constructing wings that will fly him to Florida. His high-strung wife (Angela Bolaños-Osorio) fears that he'll abandon her despite his reassurance that he'll send for her as soon as he reaches Miami.
All three tales revolve around conflicts between love and vocation; more significant, all explore tensions between desire and gratification. Even when dreams are fulfilled, when love and vocation are balanced in The Phoenix's perfect world, such harmony is short-lived. Smith's characters are no more able than we are to reach a permanent resolution of desire, nor do they, any more than we, really want such a resolution -- the craving for challenging adventure is as strong as the need for peaceful security.
The play consists of many relatively short scenes, but the well-paced production moves smoothly and swiftly from scene to scene. The problem is that we don't always get a sense of the place or physical context of each scene. Smith visits different worlds -- traveling magically from the South Bronx to Key West to Cuba and back again, but despite subtle light changes, there is little in the production to convey a real feeling for such locations, to help audiences envision such different worlds.
On the other hand, there are scenes when Sanchez and company use the stage imaginatively to create emotional space. In Act II, as the harmony of The Phoenix's perfect world dissipates, actors not involved in the downstage scenes spread out across the back of the stage dimly lit in random arrangements. Now one actor, now another, moves restlessly from one spot to another, creating a dynamic background that expresses the troubled agitation undermining the "perfect world."
Although the stage occasionally seems awkwardly crowded, as in the second act when three couples are crammed onto a central bed, there are moving group scenes, as in the last when the cast members crowd on to the overturned bed now serving as a boat floating on an endless sea of broken dreams. Here in a final tableau we are left with a concluding hopeful note -- a vision of fortitude, which both play and production clearly celebrate.
A Big Bang
What do a lonely drag queen, a circus acrobat and a Cuban man constructing wings have in common? They all travel twisted, and ultimately converging, paths toward personal and global transformation in Charise Castro Smith’s new play BOOMCRACKLEFLY, which has its world premiere Friday, March 25 at the Milagro Theatre.
BOOMCRACKLEFLY explores “how people get broken and put back together and broken and put back together in this cyclical way,” Smith explains. “Even when we think it’s the end of the line and there’s no more hope, we’re still able to transform into something else.”
Full of magical realism and impossible characters, the play is 27-year-old Smith’s second, and the first to be performed outside of Yale University, where she recently earned her master’s in theater arts. Presented primarily in English, the play blends Spanish and English with references to such modern conveniences as Febreeze and Purell that place the story’s poetic language squarely in the present.
Directed by Drammy Award-winner Olga Sanchez, BOOMCRACKLEFLY stars Emily Gleason (Lenin), Kylie Clarke Johnson (Lennon), Tyler Andrew Jones (Fulana de Tal), Stephen Lisk (The Phoenix), Randy Patterson (Ernest Hemingway), Angela Bolaños-Osorio (woman with wings), Anthony Green (man who wanted wings) and Ursula Loret de Mola (L’Abuela).
The heroine of the story is a twentysomething drag queen called Fulana de Tal (Spanish for “that girl” or “so and so”). Fulana’s journey toward a bizarre new world begins with her second-to-last customer of the night, a quiet john who cums photons and runs off with her pinky finger. Unfazed, Fulana continues to donate body parts to her revolutionary lover’s cause—to remake the universe in her image.
Meanwhile, twin sisters performing in a Miami circus find their partnership threatened by the ghost of Ernest Hemingway, and a Cuban couple bickers about the viability of building wings to fly them to freedom.
For all their quirks, the characters are surprisingly relatable, says Jones, the 21-year-old actor playing Fulana.
“I actually see a lot of myself in Fulana. Once you strip [it] down—she’s a drag queen and she’s going through all this stuff and she’s losing body parts, she has an imaginary grandmother—she’s a real person. And she’s a lot like me,” Jones says. He can relate to her monologues about dealing with loneliness, he adds, because his boyfriend lives in Las Vegas.
Still, there are ways in which Jones is nothing like the character he portrays. He insists that Fulana is a stronger person than he is, and then there’s the whole drag queen bit.
“I am, out of all of my gay friends, the last one to play a drag queen. I’m not in real life. I’ve never wanted to be. But I’ve played two,” he says.
Jones recently landed his dream role playing Angel in Rent. Sanchez saw him in the production and invited him to audition for BOOMCRACKLEFLY. The play marks his first time originating a role.
“Angel was terrifying. I think playing a part like that is scary because if you do something wrong you’ll have a riot. People will be pissed,” says Jones, explaining that audiences have come to expect a certain performance from Angel. “So this is the first. I get to do whatever I want and call it good, which is fun. I get to explore all the time, which is what I really like.”
Jones will have considerable freedom with the role since Smith didn’t provide much of a backstory for Fulana. Smith says she imagines the character living life as a woman, but doesn’t elaborate on what that means in terms of an identity.
“I’m leaving it to Tyler’s hands. I envisioned it as maybe he went back and forth between identities, but primarily living out life as a woman in terms of gender,” Smith says. The way she sees it, “everybody is their own gender actually and people are different gradations of straight and gay and everybody is probably at some point on the spectrum. These divisions we want to impose on people are more for our own comfort.”
Jones has had his own run-ins with identity-based divisions. Still, he doesn’t seem worried about being typecast in gay roles. Nor does he buy the argument that gays can’t play straight and vice-versa.
“I think it’s bullshit. I know that when it’s just Tyler, I’m feminine, and I’m okay with that. It comes out when I’m playing Fulana, it comes out when I’m playing Angel. But I’ve played Prince Charming. I think if you’re an actor and you say that [gays can’t play straight roles], you’re not giving yourself enough credit and if you’re watching and seeing someone you don’t believe, then you’re not buying into the scene.”
If anything, Jones says he sees his race as a bigger roadblock than his sexuality, especially in less diverse areas. In high school, he recalls, his drama teacher wouldn’t cast him as Curly in Oklahoma! because, she told him, “You don’t look like a cowboy and you never really will look like a cowboy.”
In Portland, there simply aren’t enough roles open to African-American men, and Jones says he finds himself competing with a small group of actors for the same roles, despite age and other differences among them.
Jones says he is excited to be a part of a play that leaves more open to interpretation. BOOMCRACKLEFLY is like nothing he’s ever seen or read.
“It’s completely original and thought provoking,” Jones says. “It’s beautiful. Once you get right down to it, the words are gorgeous.”
March 25-April 16, 2011
Josie Mendoza &
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Charise Castro Smith received a Bachelor's degree in Public Policy/Theater Arts from Brown University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale School of Drama. Her first play, Estrella Cruz [The Junkyard Queen] was produced at the Yale Cabaret. In addition to playwriting, Charise is also an actress, and has performed at Ars Nova, The Public Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, The Guthrie Theater as well as in film and television projects. She was born and raised in Miami, FL and currently resides in Brooklyn. She is so excited and grateful to have her play find a home at Teatro Milagro!
Miracle Theatre Group 425 SE 6th Avenue Portland, Oregon 97214 503-236-7253
Miracle Theatre Group