Friday, February 19, 2010

Review for La MaMa's Heavy Like the Weight of the Flame

As the audience enters the cubical-like theater space of LaMaMa, modern hip-hop beats fill the space with an uncanny explosion of words that reiterate the minimal black stage displaying only a guitar case and four small wooden squares. Ernie Silva enters the stage and with his guitar in hand, a wife beaters shirt and baggy jeans. The space is now filled with sirens and traffic noises, the tones of his quiet guitar play, and Silva is heavily panting in tone with the soft tunes; that stop in a sudden shift from internalized expression to the monologue that caries the piece for one and a half hours at a commendable speed. Like a rollercoaster of memories and emotions, Silva invites the audience into the tapestry of characters that have had a prominent role in the protagonist’s life. He begins with a interaction he had as a dishwasher, who is called out by his boss, for having more in his brain than what his ‘typical’ clothing tell of him.

This first sequence ends in what characterizes the boxed in feeling of the main character: “You will never be better, you are just like them, you will never escape” says his boss in a heavy Middle Eastern accent. The manner in which Silva switches flawlessly from his younger self to the busy boss and other roles is amazing. He uses posture and voices to embody the multifaceted character range that accompany his journey in such brilliance that one might forget they are watching only one man. From the almost depressing first interaction, the protagonist settles down and tells us of his muse, the hope of his world, his guitar; Savannah, while citing Jimmy Hendrix in Woodstock, a metaphor for the ‘good old days’.

Silva leads us thread by thread through the imagination, dreams and realities of his life, every time adding a patch of information that colors in the world right before our eyes, plainly through great acting. From his musical passion, he jerks away into his love of poetry through becoming Kerouac, and metamorphosing into Shakespeare and all of a sudden he delivers the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, acting out one of the most beautiful love soliloquies as both, the love struck Romeo, and the dreamy Juliet. From this place where everyone can relate, he pulls us into a much more personal memory, the interaction with his high older brother; who laughs at him for reading all that ‘shit’ and gives him three vibrant little dices. “That’s the real thing” says the brother, learn how to read these, stop reading all that crap is the message he receives from his role model. The story then pulls back into the philosophical realm of how knowledge makes you question everything, and everyone in the audience laughs at the painful truth that the more you know you know nothing at all; while the actor embodies the daily-news asking “what the fuck” is wrong with this world.

From the outside world inward again; Silva tells us of the realities of growing up in old-school Brooklyn, using the color Orange as a simile for it being a hot place without warmth. He becomes a twelve year old again, showing us the childhood experiences of his brother’s overdose and him being the bearer of bad news. As the youngest son to a single mother who feels different but locked in, by obligation to where he is from and what that entails. The words of his former Boss ‘you are just like them’ role around in his head like the dice his dead brother left him with. Nevertheless the wind from the outside world is hauling at him, calling him away, and he becomes the American out-back. We are invited into the scary adventures of his brave choice to leave behind where he is from, what seemingly makes one who they are. As everything he knew disappears into the distance, the voices in his head get louder. Anxious of falling into the trap of self medication, he lives on the road with the gatherers and wanderers, his Savannah as his guardian angel, accompanying him. When our hero falls into the next boxed in existence of jail, we fear that this is one of those stories that do not have a happy ending, but there is hope in ‘Pandora’s box’.

There is much to learn from this personal and vibrant story; I warmly recommend everyone to go and see what else this ‘box’ contains. And for certain everyone can find a thread to take home and internalize from this heart breaking, awakening most amazing story of one who left never to come back.

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