The first image of the play are the series of empty cots neatly arranged in rows and a buffet of food. We are introduced to Teo, who is a young, gay man from San Antonio, Texas who is fulfilling a dream of visiting New York City while in the shadows of personal setbacks that brings him, a guest, to the church homeless shelter. He is judged in triplicate and it takes it’s toll on his morale. “There is a lot of shame,” Christina points out, “As a man, not living up to his potential.”
He is a proud man who meets Bob, a volunteer, who emphathizes with Teo, but draws the line when he tries to make a move on him. Bob likes Teo and even refers to him as one of “The Good Ones.” Teo takes the rejection negatively. Chad Carstarphen was brillant in his role as an outsider who cares and his chemistry with Daniel Prado is the cornerstone relationship of the play, even without the type of payoff one would of expected after the fireworks that were launched after a couple of intimate kisses. This relationship is a variation on a real life experience Christina spoke about encountering a homeless woman who flirted with her during a volunteer stint. The question of whether she would date her opened up further thought on how as people, the homeless lose their humanity in our eyes. “I found I could be friends and hang out with someone who was homeless but to the point of having a relationship is a whole another level.”
Christina pointed out that though the lead character is Gay, that this is not to be assumed to be an LGBT story. “Yes, Teo is Gay, it’s not what the story is about,” Quintana explains, “It’s about a guy who has found himself homeless and it can be anyone.”
As one can surmise the intent of this play was to explore the inner pain of having had standing in a society and then, in Teo’s case, in an act of love, drain his resources to care for the health of his grandmother. In pursuing his dream, he is relegated by necessity to the underside of city life. He puts up a tremendous front, tries to work through the obstacles, but it is his own prejudices that initially place him above those that occupy what Bob refers to in the play as “The Rolls Royce of Shelters.”
Teo is too embarrassed to admit to family, in particular Beny, his cousin, that he is homeless. He tells his friend Hague and soon regrets it as he is equally pitied and shunned from the circles friends normally share. He has become the elephant in the room.
Here we must make a strong mention of Sai Somboon, who showed great vitality and flexibility in playing three roles. He was family member, friend, and lover. A actor who can hold degrees in diverse fields like Dance and Anthropology is just the type who can pull this off so well.
Teo is also put in his place by Gladys, played by Marie Louise Guinier who appears to be mentally off but we learn just has never adjusted to the drastic changes in her lifestyle and is quick to remind Teo that he is no better than her since they share the same situation. Guinier, an IRNE nominated actress who has been on ABC’s “What Would You Do” showed great depth making Gladys funny but maddening at the same time.
The diverse points of societal punishment Teo encounters reflects the duality challenges of the playwright. Christina was raised in Louisiana and is of Cuban heritage. It certainly had an impact. “It’s a huge part of me. They both inform me as a writer,” Christina recalls,
“New Orleans, Pre-Katrina is a black and white place. Because of that and being Latina, in that environment, I experienced a lot of micro-aggression.”
Christina described herself as obsessed the idea of the American Dream and what it means. She displays this through story examples. For Randy, later Tragedy (Doug Rossi), the homeless subway hobo who spouts poetry and enjoys harassing our lead throughout the play, it was about him and his wife getting out of the shelter system together. Her death ended the dream but his advice, though given while applying a submission hold, brings Teo some clarity.
Rosa and Ricardo, were very much like a modern “I Love Lucy” view of life. Ricardo (Francis Mateo) and Rosa (Arlene Chico-Lugo) displayed a great interaction delving well into how couples struggle when they don’t quite rely on each other. Arlene also did a nice double impressively playing not only a young wife but Teo’s abuela. The contrast was quite believable.
Teo wanted the New York dream. But he has lost his faith along the way and settles for one night stands with guys like “Len” who were physically attractive but little else outside of providing a place with a hot shower. His knowledge of his grandmother’s passing has removed his lone anchor. Bob finds Teo on a sleeping on a park bench while jogging a day after they fought. He offers Teo a chance of a shower before going to the bank teller job he is slaving over, he refuses.
A look at meanings for a moment. The word evensong was chosen when she came about deciding the setting of this play. When you look it up it is defined as “a service of evening prayers, psalms, and canticles, conducted to a set form.” In certain churches it is conducted through song.
“I had an idea of a chorus underscoring what would happen,” Christina shared this insight,
“What is the pulse of the city that connects us and isolates us at the same time? I found that in a sanctuary that had rehearsals which fit what I was looking for.”
Teo hears the singing of just such a service. He likes it. It seems to remind him of his grandmother who even in death appears in his dreams watching over him. He experiences temporary solace.
A box is sent to the wrong address. The couple spoken of earlier has had a personal issue haunt them. Rosa lost a child while pregnant. The name was similiar to the one on the package. She sees this as fate to be fulfilled. She finds Teo at the bank she goes to and puts two and two together.
Teo is quite rude with her but she convinces him to vent his problems with her, a stranger. He is suspicious of her motives but surprisingly complies. “It’a part of this play,” Quintana explained, “I am always amazed how strangers look out for each other here. There are these crazy connections, somehow they happen.” He opens the box and takes out the gloves that his grandmother sent to keep his hands warm. He smiles. Symbolically they seem to represent the helping hand Bob talked about earlier and weaved itself throughout the play.
He tells Bob about a possible job lead. Bob is pleased to hear it. Teo has his faith restored now and as he holds his abuela’s gift, he is reminded that he is loved no matter how he is tagged by society. As Christina was told by one who read the play. “I went outside and looked at everybody differently.” Though each of us take our unique views from what we view, the playright also hopes that the audience can identify hers for a production like this that is quite personal. What did Christina want people to take from this?
“I would like us to be a little aware, open, and more compassionate. What more can you ask for?”
Christina summerizes. Evensong is the first production of the 2016 season of APAC, who is now in their 16th season. The show continues to run at the Astoria Performing Arts Center in Astoria, NY until November 19th, 2016.
Christina, who volunteered at The Friends Shelter whose base is the Friends Meeting House and Seminary in lower Manhattan wants you to know that volunteers are always needed. For those interested you may contact volunteer coordinator Katy Homans at [email protected] or via the website www.friendsshelter.org.