Here in Southern California there seems to be an endless supply of talented actors, savvy directors, and great theatre companies who mount terrific shows with scripts by passionate playwrights expert at their craft. Oh, once in a while a theatre-goer might come across an unfortunate show that is substandard in any or all of those categories, but in the past eight months I have seen and reviewed more than fifty performances and only three of those garnered a mostly negative notice. Week after week, show after show, I have been delighted, amused, entertained and astonished; I have laughed and wept.
My Mañana Comes at The Fountain Theatre, written by Elizabeth Irwin and flawlessly directed by Armando Molina, is set in the busboys’ prep room of an upscale French restaurant on the upper East Side on Manhattan. There, four low-wage busboys carry food out and soiled dishes and linen in, while also preparing garnishes and condiments. They scurry about in a frenzy of activity all the while joking and talking shit. They are nominally led by Peter (intense, commanding Lawrence Stallings), an African American with a wife and child, barely scraping by and content with his lot. Jorge (a soulful Richard Azurdia), an undocumented Mexican, keeps himself contained while enjoying repartee with Peter. He is a grind who works hard and saves his money so he can return to Mexico and his wife and young children. He spends nothing on himself save for a bed and food. Pepe (bright, cheerful Pablo Castelblanco), recently arrived from Juarez through the services of an immigration coyote, is a wide-eyed kid soaking up the reality of New York. He is the frequent butt of endless jocularity emanating from Whalid (effervescent Peter Pasco), a native New Yorker of Mexican descent.
These are minimum wage workers who get a little extra through shift pay, a way of compensating for extra hours or long shifts. When the new manager withholds the shift pay, the stress level on the busboys rockets them into conflict.
This production of My Mañana Comes is an exemplar of ensemble acting. The players are extraordinary, displaying split-second timing while engaging each other in rapid-fire verbiage. All this takes place while they enter, exit and perform the myriad mundane tasks assigned to them—wiping down the counter, folding the linen and cutlery, preparing garnishes, punching in and out—all the while revealing themselves to each other and the audience. This is in-the-room, kitchen-sink realism.
The set by Michael Navarro is a functional, realistic wonder jammed into the intimate space of The Fountain Theatre. Lighting by Jennifer Edwards establishes scenic realism with occasional, abrupt changes that indicate the passage of time or signal a scene change. These sharp changes are accompanied by loud, jarring sounds (excellent designer Christopher Moscatiello) that heighten tension.
Dillon Nelson’s work as props designer/set dresser delivers the ultimate stamp of realism on the play. Food that keeps coming out of the kitchen and heads into the dining room looks appropriate, while the handling of trays and the cutting, chopping, folding and filling goes on and on in a basso ostinato of action underlying the entire drama. Kudos! Magdalena Guillen’s costumes reinforce place, action and character. If Sylvia Blush’s credit as movement director means what I think it does, more kudos there, for the action displays the intricate, split-second, choreographed timing that establishes the frenzied pace of a busy restaurant.
Lastly, the drama has characters and situations that touch the heart, culminating in a sudden, stunning climax and a poignant dénoument.
My Mañana Comes is another Southern California don’t-miss production. It runs through June 26 at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles.