Love – The Questionable Survival of Hope
It’s a small British homeless shelter. Over seventy audience members are seated in the staging area creating a sense of intimacy, the rest of us tiered behind. Alexander Zedlin’s play, the second in a trilogy, was developed during a series of workshops with the homeless. Economic script never strays from authenticity.
Grace Willoughby (Page), Alex Austin (Dean), Nick Holder (Colin), Janet Etuk (Emma)
Natasha Jenkins’ common room set (one wonders at a high window with a tree blowing in the wind) and costumes follow suit. Marc Williams’ harsh, fluorescent lighting even flickers as if in poor repair. Silence is employed with optimum effect. We’re flies on a drab wall in a bleak facility where the unfortunate are trapped in conceivably endless limbo. It’s Christmas.
In Room 5, Emma (Janet Etuk), studying to be a massage therapist, is very pregnant and afraid of having her baby at the shelter. She depends on constantly reassuring partner Dean (Alex Austin) to get their growing family into housing. There was a “mix-up,” but by law, she stresses, their stay should only be six weeks. Petitioning the assumedly overburdened, bureaucratic council, however, is like climbing a glass mountain. Dean’s children, still optimistic Paige (Grace Willoughby), and sulking older brother Jason (Oliver Finnegan), are hungry and short tempered, but not yet in despair.
Oliver Finnegan (Jason)
In Room 4, childlike, sensitive, middle-aged Colin (Nick Holder) endeavors to take care of his elderly, ill mother Barbara (Amelda Brown) who clearly did the same for her “boy” most of his life. The two have been in residence almost a year. She knows it’s the end. Barbara is a source of much needed kindness at the domain.
Residents are suspicious of refugees Tharwa (Hind Swareldahab) from Sudan and Adnan (Naby Dakhli) from Syria, despite gentle overtures by both. The two respectively scurry out when anyone else enters. (Room doors are mostly kept shut.) Eventually, they find one another and engage in a lively conversation in Arabic. This is one of a very few bright moments. Paige’s enthusiastically rehearsing her role in a holiday play and Colin’s asking to touch Emma’s belly are others.
Naby Dakhli (Adnan); Hind Swareldahab (Tharwa)
A small refrigerator keeps inhabitants’ groceries separate. Nor are dishes communal. Paper towels and toilet paper are kept in private rooms. Sink and toilet are in regular disrepair. Unlike what one might assume, strangers don’t gravitate to one another for company or comfort. The system is dehumanizing.
Direction is realistic, nothing sped up or manufactured for theatrical effect. Pacing often makes us feel more pointedly uncomfortable. Acting is uniformly wonderful with Amelda Brown’s Barbara a standout. There’s a sense of backstory.
Extremely loud sound during every episodic blackout emerges inexplicably. (Josh Anio Grigg)
Alex Austin (Dean) and Janet Etuk (Emma)
Alexander Zedlin’s beautifully written and acted piece might be a wake-up call but even the so-called “woke” among us haven’t managed to alleviate frightening statistics. Current figures show nearly one in every 120 New Yorkers is currently homeless, the highest level since the Great Depression. In 2022, there were 29,653 homeless children. Though limited, adequate medical care for the mentally ill among them contributes, every study points to lack of affordable housing, a predominantly profit-making enterprise, as the main reason.
Photos by Stephanie Berger
Opening: Amelda Brown (Barbara)
Love – Written and Directed by Alexander Zedlin
Through March 25, 2023
Park Avenue Armory