That old-time religion

Unity Fest Program A

The Fourth Unity
Bank Street Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Jade Esteban Estrada

Delivering some old-school theatrical passion, love, and death was the moving Program A of Unity Fest, produced by The Fourth Unity at the Bank Street Theatre. Timelessly classic in its storytelling, this duet of plays seemed to engage spectators in an emotional confine so relentless that its effects lingered long after leaving the theatre.

First up was a solo play written and performed by Tony Hamilton. It's a Wonderful Lie, or I Wish I'd Never Been Born was extraordinarily full of detail. The story is about a young gay man in Manhattan who is chasing love in all the wrong places. Unfortunately, every time he thinks he's found his true romance, it slips through his hands.

The clever Joan Evans used the space extremely well in her direction. Hamilton excelled as both a solo performer and as playwright.

Trafficking in Broken Hearts by the uncompromising Edwin Sanchez is a significant piece of gay theatre that undoubtedly deserves a life beyond its once-a-year appearance at this festival.

Kicking off its opening scene like a multimillion-dollar Broadway musical, director Dennis Smith painted a hectic and dodgy 42nd Street complete with drug pushers, prostitutes, and homeless people. Bekka Lindstrom's amazing ability to transform the template scenery was noteworthy.

Ivan Davila played Papo, a small-time, expert hustler in Times Square who's seen better days and knows it. Bobby (played by Heland Lee) is a young man who struggles with the impending marriage of his brother, who for many years was his lover. Brian (played by the phenomenal Nicholas Warren-Gray) is a sexually frustrated lawyer who meets Papo in Times Square while surreptitiously looking for sex. Sparks fly between Brian and Papo throughout the piece, but their insecurities get in the way of being together. In the meantime, the desperate Bobby runs into Papo at a Port Authority restroom and begs him for a place to stay, eventually becoming his emotionally burdened lover. Smith exquisitely directed this triangular love story.

Lee was tragic and vulnerable, approaching his role like a modern-day Medea, while Davila played his Papo true to the "Latino-who-sleeps-with-men-but-is-not-gay" genre clear in Sanchez's writing.

But it was Warren-Gray who mastered the desperate, anxious quality so powerfully, calling phone sex lines and trying in vain to be inconspicuous with Papo in public places. Uncertain of his direction from moment to moment, the character was thrilling to watch.

Giselle Richardson played a prostitute and then Brian's secretary, who is on to her boss's sexual escapades. Seen previously in the festival's Program B as a mournful mother, her transformation was impressive.

Karen Stanion played a drugged-out prostitute who visits Bobby in a day-to-day rented apartment. The actress nodded from time to time with heavy eyelids as if unaware of her surroundings as Bobby happily carried on about his relationship with Papo. The scene was heart-wrenching.

Moe Bertran, Maxx Santiago, and Philip Estrera played characters adorning this world with a style true to the atmosphere.

A certifiable triumph, Unity Fest has won a place in the New York theatre circles as one of the most exciting LGBT theatre festivals around. Waiting until next year to see what they've got planned is one big tease.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2002 Jade Esteban Estrada