WHO: Katherine Cortez
WHERE: Rogue Machine at the MET
WHY: Not all of Fringe can be fun-and-games. Audiences (like me!) adore fun but we also want theater that helps us to understand what’s going on IRL (in real life). This thought-provoking world premier ensemble drama was inspired by the 2016 shootings at the LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando on “Latin Night” in which 49 (mostly Latino) people were murdered by a single gunman. The play explores how “fundamental belief systems can give a perverse inspiration to the execution of hate in the name of ‘love’.”
The play opens in chaos—projections of people dancing are quickly replaced by screams and panic. Something horrific has happened and I was on the edge of my seat as the layers of what happened slowly unfold. The focus is on Rafi (short for Raphael), a handsome, young man in a blood-spattered t-shirt who grimly stares into the distance. He’s in shock, trying to understand and piece together the events of the evening. Carmen, another survivor, shuffles in, missing a shoe. A gentle detective arrives to comfort them, along with a uniformed cop (who is more judgmental than comforting). Eventually Rafi’s fundamentalist Christian mother comes to take Rafi home and though she’s ecstatic her son is alive, she cannot contain the multitudes of bias she holds within.
Rafi also takes us into his recent past. Questioning his sexuality and how he came to be at the Pulse nightclub that night and meeting a man there who is not who he seems. In Rafi’s memory, we meet his eclectic club friends; foremost is Enrique (a hot, Latin charmer Rafi encounters at an AA meeting). All good drama contains a mystery and this play has many. The obvious question is: “Where’s Enrique?” Rafi will not leave until he finds his lover and I was holding my breath, waiting…
The title comes from Psalm 23:4 “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me…” and refers to a Higher Power’s presence during death; but Katherine Cortez gives it another meaning—finding strength in love, all love. “Love is Love is Love” one of the characters says. Cortez’s writing is entertaining, and thought-provoking. A good thing as I was afraid a play based on such a tragedy could be depressing. And yes, it stirs up “the feels”, posits many questions, and calls out for more understanding—from the characters and the audience. And while the story made me sad, angry, and challenged, I was never depressed. I felt the “thin edge of the wedge” of hope, hope that things can change with love.
There is much humor to balance the horror, especially among the supporting characters, including a laughing-through-her-tears compassionate trans woman. Five actors played dual roles—each one wildly different from the other. (Especially impressive was Tania Verafield who plays the quiet Carmen but who quickly flips her hair to expose a shaved temple. She adds a long feathered earring and fully embodies butch bartender Hawk.) Special kudos to the Femme production members Heather Tyler (producer), Elina De Santos (director), Stephanie Kerley (set—her clever use of the standing set for Rogue Machine’s current production is outstanding).
One final note: There will be a special performance and reception on the one-year marker of the Pulse nightclub tragedy on Sunday, June 11, 7:30 pm. Proceeds will benefit the LGBT Center. Parking at the MET is difficult, give yourself time to get there. Your patience will be rewarded.