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Citizens of the Gray,
or The Dark Thing that Sleeps in Me

Tony Duran, Maria Baena. Photo by James Rucinski.

November 9-25, 2018 (closed)
Theater for the New City (Johnson Theater), 155 First Ave.
Presented by Theater for the New City in association with Teatro Dramma and Elia Schneider.
Company's website:
Show's website: http://citizensofthegray.com/

Reviewed by Paul Berss November 18.

Playwright/director Elia Schneider's "Citizens of the Gray or The Dark Thing that Sleeps Inside Me" debuted at Theater for the New City November 9 to 25, 2018. The piece is a visually arresting series of short vignettes with a decidedly dark and surreal approach. 

Barbara Blanck. Photo by Johan Canelo.

The company appears on a stage covered with sand, costumed in a variety of all black and grey garments that look as though fished from a dumpster - tattered cocktail dresses, worn out suits,army boots, bare feet, bizarre hats, and all with a four-digit number attached to their backs.  With split-second timing and robust determination, these bizarre creatures act out their short stories.  Each vignette is carefully choreographed, composed of natural movement rather than formal dance, and there was occasional taped dialogue drawn from poets, including Sylvia Plath, and original music by Argentine composer Osvaldo Montes.

Tony Duran, Maria Baena.

Impeccably rehearsed and performed, the one-hour presentation moves along at breakneck speed.  In an interesting Q&A session after the show, Schneider explains to the audience that, while all the scenes have a theme, viewers might not "get it' or connect with every scene or situation.   I was reminded of a few of Pina Bausch's works which never identified the characters but invited the audience to interpret the people and their actions as they wished.

The ensemble draws lots to play Russian Roulette.
Photo by James Rucinski.

The scenes centered around a few subjects: control, abuse, injustice were high on the list.   To cite a few of the scenes:  Four men with briefcases, standing across the front of the stage, mime typing furiously on computers while behind them, four mothers with baby dolls scream as a net is thrown over them.  In a later scene, the four women stand in front working comfortably and efficiently on the computers, while the men, lined up in the back with the babies, are clueless as to how to attend to the infants.  They hold the dolls in all the wrong positions; one insists on throwing his up in the air again and again despite the baby crying on tape.   An easy one to interpret!  

Revenge with a rolling pin.

Other scenes depicted rape and abuse of women, and men controlling women as though they were marionettes.   In another scene a woman is raped and then joined by other women who attack the attacker and pull him offstage.   In another scene a woman doles out portions of soup to the hungry group.  They eat until someone calls out "stop," and resume when ordered to do so.  A game show finds the excited crowd willing to play Russian Roulette in order to try to win prizes.  When one unlucky woman actually kills herself, the unconcerned crowd simply disperses.

L-R: Barbara Blanck, Gustavo Ramirez, Cristina Castillo.

Despite the grim visuals and situations, I found the production original, most entertaining and, is does it sound strange to say, fun? The Company performs with a total and endearing commitment to the work and very clearly makes many important and topical points in a non-threatening and entertaining way. 

The originality of Ms. Schneider's body of work makes it resist categorization. Her imagery is sometimes referred to as Dali-esque and her nonliteral, surrealist commentary often touches on holocaust, diaspora and totalitarianism. Kafka-esque themes have abounded in previous works.

Elia K. Schneider is the director; Joseph Novoa the producer and lighting designer; Ivana Profeta is the costume designer; Tony Duran is the choreographer.   Performers are Juliana Betancourth, Barbara Blanck, Corinna Camero, Cristina Castillo, Hasiff Fadul, Mariana Lopez, Gustavo Ramirez, Oscar Gio Ramirez, Siumara Samayoa, and Hector Vera, all incidentally from Mexico and South America. The ensemble all met in The Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theater in Los Angeles, where Schneider is a faculty member.  I hope that Theater for the New City welcomes the group back with another of its unique presentations.

See related coverage by Larry Littany Litt.

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