BWW Reviews: PINKOLANDIA is a Land Not Worth Exploring
There are times when I leave a theater feeling that the show I have just seen was tailor-made for my enjoyment. There are other times when I may not have been the intended audience but I nevertheless see the merits of the piece or can tell who the piece was intended for. And then there are shows like Pinkolandia that just leave me scratching my head. I honestly have no clue who would be the target audience for this play.
I really wanted to like Pinkolandia. Really, I did. The play by Andrea Thome received glowing reviews when it premiered earlier this year. The New York Times critic Ken Jaworowski called it an "ambitious and often beautiful new play" and called the text "dreamlike and dramatic." I can't say I agree.
It's not that Thome has no good ideas. The problem is she has too much of them. Her play concerns two sisters, Beny and Gaby, who are forced to emigrate from Chile to the Regan-era United States. Both sisters, especially Beny who fancies herself a Communist, struggle to adapt. But what should be a coming of age story (I assume that's Thome's intent) is marred by fantasy (or maybe reality?) scenes involving Nazis and other surrealistic sequences involving talking polar bears who live in Closetland. While other playwrights-Tennessee Williams and Tony Kushner, for example-have mastered magic realism, Thome has not.
In essence, Thome's play is similar to the Communist ideas she tries to explore. It all looks great on paper, but in practice it's a downright mess. Major flaws emerge when Thome's ideas run away from her. The moments of fantasy don't seem fanciful enough. The moments of realism aren't realistic enough. The transitions between fantasy and reality are too abrupt. Each character seems stereotyped into an archetype. Few, if any, relationships are fully realized. The point, if there is one, is completely lost. But the biggest problem is that Thome hasn't decided who her intended audience is. This is too childish for adults and to adult for children.
Despite the major problems with the material, the cast and crew at the Salvage Vanguard Theater do their absolute best with it. Some of their work is nothing short of thrilling. The entire six person cast is outstanding, particularly Gricelda Silva as Beny and Elizabeth Bigger as Gaby. The two of them easily encapsulate the joy, exuberance, and curious nature of childhood, and their playful sibling rivalry is fun to watch. Director Jenny Larson does all she can to keep the show afloat, and her staging, especially the humorous moments between the sisters, is quite strong. The lighting design by Steven Shirey and video design by Erin Meyer greatly enhances the surreal moments, and the original score by Graham Reynolds is a subtle but pleasant addition to the production.
Still, the fact remains that a cast and creative team this strong deserve far better material than this. Simply put, Thome's text isn't stage ready. The best bits need to be refined and plenty more need to be axed altogether before Pinkolandia can succeed.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours including one 15 minute intermission.
Note: Recommended for mature audiences only.
PINKOLANDIA plays the Salvage Vanguard Theater at 2803 Manor Road, Austin, 78722 now thru November 2nd. Performances are Wednesday 10/30, Friday 11/1 and Saturday 11/2 at 8pm. Tickets are $10. For tickets and information, please visit www.salvagevanguard.org