Aliens With Extraordinary Skills Tickets
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Aliens with Extraordinary Skills
Saviana Stanescu describes two remarkable and resilient young women in her work Aliens with Extraordinary Skills. The pivotal character of the play is Nadia, who is a clown from Moldova. Nadia has recently emigrated to the United States.
She is literally a clown literally, and she is a woman with a particular talent. She can make people laugh. When Nadia is revealed, she is seen wearing a red nose and an odd wig. She performs a kind of puppet show with two balloon animals, a squirrel and a dog.
The unfortunate part of this story is that Nadia is an illegal alien. She is always haunted by the thought of visits from a pair of INS officers who want to deport her.
Nadia chooses an American name for herself, Ginger. She is determined to stay in her newfound home country at almost any cost. Nadia's professional partner is Borat, also an illegal immigrant (from Russia). They decide they will elude the INS by moving to New York, figuring that in a city so big it will easy to get lost in the crowd.
They also decide-and I loved Stanescu's dramaturgy for this decision-to separate. Borat continues to stay in touch with Nadia (and with us) in his new life as a Manhattan cab driver (sleeping on the floor with half-a-dozen other illegals in some Albanian's basement).
But Aliens mainly follows Nadia/Ginger's odyssey in NYC, looking for work, self-actualization, security, and-always at the back of her mind-a green card. Nadia finds a place to live on Craigslist, which leads us to our second alien with extraordinary skills. Her name is Lupita, and she is a (legal) immigrant from the Dominican Republic.
She's a magnificent creation: smart, ambitious, self-assured and self-sufficient, tough but vulnerably humane. She's an aspiring actress who currently supports herself as an exotic dancer. She becomes Nadia's advocate but never her best pal (a great realistic touch from the playwright).
A pesky guy named Bob who wanted to buy the sofa that Nadia now sleeps on becomes a fixture in their lives. The play tracks several eventful months in which all four of these people find their destinies increasingly intertwined.
I love that the women here are the ones who make the life decisions; Nadia learns how to survive in New York and gains self-reliance and ownership over her tenuous existence. Through Lupita and Nadia we come to understand that extraordinary skills are precisely what's required to make the compromises that women must make to attain that kind of ownership.
The specifics of each woman's set of choices are different, but the essentials are the same; the underlying sadness and seriousness of this play about a clown and a dancer keeps us focused sharply on the rocky terrain these courageous characters must negotiate.
Tea Alagic's production goes for a more antic and light-headed approach than I think the script deserves, which is somewhat unfortunate. The ending, in particular, which features a shower of balloons from the theatre ceiling, might be intended as ironic but undercuts the authentic ambivalence (even sorrow) that I think the author would like us to be contemplating.
That said, the production is very entertaining, quick-moving, and engaging. Both of the principal male performers-Kevin Isola as Bob and Seth Fisher as Borat-deliver fine performances, and Jessica Pimental is nothing short of spectacular as Lupita; she is clearly an actress to watch.
Natalia Payne is less successful as Nadia, with an accent that drifts in and out and a characterization that doesn't really seem to plumb the depths of this enormously complicated and interesting woman.
Gian Murray Gianino and Shirine Babb complete the company as the phantom INS officers. In Aliens with Extraordinary Skills, Stanescu takes the audience into territory that will be uncharted for most of them: the immigrant experience is presented here with candor and without a shred of romanticism.