Trina (Colleen O’Neill) and Angie (Ellen Maddow) have secrets. On the surface, they appear to be upstanding citizens of Buffalo, New York, who tend to the locally deceased at Dawn Funeral Home. Yet these eccentric sisters aren’t only skillful with formaldehyde-they know how to fabricate and falsify as well. Given our current dystopian age where suspicion of “the others” prevails, those aren’t negative traits; quite the contrary. In Talking Band’s City of No Illusions, their actions of harboring asylum seekers are defensible.
According to a recent article in TDF Stages, Writer and director Paul Zimet (one of Talking Band’s founding members) was inspired to write this surrealist tale after meeting a pair of sisters who ran a funeral parlor in Buffalo.
The result is a sometimes foggy but generally entertaining piece that illuminates the struggle immigrants must endure on a daily basis. Quality theatre often provides a reflective commentary on current events. Zimet’s piece does this without being overly dogmatic. News stories of immigrant and border walls abound, but this fresh and quirky tale-rife with lively characters–manages to put a new spin on a contemporary topic.
There are some notable performances here: Jack Wetherall is eerily charming as Daryl, Trina’s husband turned charlatan real estate developer. Daryl is keen on selling space to a vacation resort complete with a cemetery. He’s an ideal blend of a schmaltzy game show host and televangelist Pat Robertson.
Eden Zane strikes the right balance of vulnerability and deception as Saad, a gay Syrian refugee pretending to be a medical student.
Tina Shepard (also an original founding member of Talking Band) shines as Vera, a counter-culture revolutionary who is hell bent on protecting the immigrants. “They have a life ahead of them,” she says. “I’m in countdown mode. I’ve stopped counting how many years I’ve lived and started counting how many I have left. Each day I have to ask myself, ‘was that the best way I could have spent one of my remaining days?’ Usually, the answer is no. But today, I think I can answer yes.” It is perhaps one of the play’s more sobering and poignant moments.
Not everything is comprehensible or even essential to City of No Illusions. Although Maddow’s original compositions are performed beautifully by musicians billed as the “shadow band,” they do little to propel the narrative. Another odd directorial choice is the use of an exhaled breath sound effect as actors enter and exit the set. Still, this is a thoughtful and topical piece to ponder long after the curtain falls.
City of No Illusions runs through Feb 24 Downstairs at LaMama (66 E. 4 St. NYC) For tickets and more information, visit http://lamama.org/no_illusions/