“I am a man,” says a middle aged white woman, Dominique (Rebecca Gibel), at the beginning of “Real,” which you could call a ghost story. “I am a man because it’s how you see me. But I want to be more.”
About 70 minutes later, and 84 years earlier, Dominic (Darwin del Fabro), a 20-year-old gay Latino man wearing red lipstick, makes the exact same speech.
“Real,” a play by Rodrigo Nogueira being given a competent world premiere production at The Tank through January 20, takes place in New York in two different eras. The scenes alternate between Dominic in 1935, an immigrant musical prodigy who is composing a fugue and writing a play, and Dominique in 2019, a lawyer who is giving a dinner party for her husband, her best friend and her best friend’s husband. It doesn’t take long before we realize the parallels between the two central characters go beyond the similarity of their names.
I suppose it would be a spoiler to reveal how the parallel lines ultimately meet. In truth, though, the spooky and melodramatic aspects of the plot, and the two characters’ surreal pile-up of connections, are less engaging than the astute social observations the playwright threads throughout the piece.
In particular, Nogueira notes with varying degrees of subtlety the persistence of political and personal challenges involving race, gender and sexual orientation. It’s bracing that one of the characters in the 1930s fears deportation under The Mexican Repatriation, a historical event in which the U.S. government shipped to Mexico as many as two million Mexican-Americans, the majority of whom had been born in the U.S. and were legal citizens.
Dominic’s father and Dominique’s husband (both portrayed by Charlie Pollock) represent patriarchal attempts to squelch individual identity and artistic expression. Dominique, we learn, was herself something of a musical prodigy at age 20, but her husband more or less forced her into becoming a lawyer and going into practice with him. (That a wife would feel forced to give up a musical career in the 21stcentury is certainly possible, but feels less persuasive than a son being forced to give up one in the 20th.)
Not all the observations are so pointed. There are fascinating and funny tidbits largely delivered by Keith Reddin, who portrays two characters (one in 1935, the other in 2019), neither of whom is given a name. For example:
“Animal is a relatively recent word, and it’s related to soul, anima. Before that they were called ‘beasts’ and they were perceived as soulless enemies that should be killed. After being named ‘animals’ they were seen as friendly, useful allies to human kind.”
The comment is obviously connected to the title of the play, and has to do with a theme in it about how reality differs based on perception. (and the way language is used can affect perception.) There are several such intellectual themes, each of which could anchor its own play.
Nogueira, a playwright of some renown in Brazil who’s a newcomer to New York, still manages to land some astute and amusing comments about living in New York – or, more precisely, about taking the New York City subway. Which makes him a New Yorker.
Written by Rodrigo Nogueira
Directed by Erin Ortman
Composer and sound design by Quentin Chiappetta, set design by Ao Li, costume design by Becky Bodurtha, lighting design by Kia Rodgers, movement direction by Gabrielle Perez
Cast: Rebecca Gibel as Dominique, Gabriela Garcia as best friend/maid, Charlie Pollock as husband/father, Keith Reddin as best friend’s husband/professor, Darwin Del Fabro as Dominic,
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $26.87 to $37.22
Real is scheduled to run through January 20, 2019.