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BWW Review: TAXILANDIA Takes a Ride Through Bushwick

An immersive theatrical experience from the backseat of a cab in Bushwick

BWW Review: TAXILANDIA Takes a Ride Through Bushwick

Bushwick, Brooklyn - a place where new hipster neighbors, rising rents, and signs of gentrification (aka "GG") exist everywhere despite the lingering traces of old-school graffiti tags clinging on brick buildings.

In Taxilandia - a solo show that a maximum of three audience members at a time watch from the backseat of a cab - Modesto Flako Jimenez is the charismatic guide unveiling the hellish and heavenly aspects of Bushwick's past, present, and uncertain future.

The immersive experience begins with a brief walking tour where Jimenez points out vibrant murals on walls now owned by a curator who painted over the artistic expressions that previously adored them. The erasure of a group or individual's history to accommodate another is a recurring theme.

We stopped by a stout, sturdy Latina woman called Yolanda La Reina De el Cisne cooking pig intestines on the street corner. Smoke and steam carried the enticing scent down the block. Jimenez explained that Yolanda had been on that corner since the '90s, first selling one-dollar items until a 99 cent store arrived and put her out of business. She adapted by slinging pork instead.

That one-half a block walk set the tone for all of Taxilandia-a love letter and critique of an ever-evolving area of Brooklyn known as Bushwick, from a poetic neighborhood historian.

BWW Review: TAXILANDIA Takes a Ride Through Bushwick
The review's author (Cindy Sibilsky, center) with friends experiencing Taxilandia in the backseat of Modesto Flako Jimenez's cab. Photo by Modesto Flako Jiminez.

When we arrived at his livery cab from the early 2000s with glossy maroon paint and beige interior, the show officially began. Sliding into the car, the smell of worn leather and memories lingered in the air. Suddenly the senses are ignited.

Perhaps, above all else, that's what I miss the most about the live theatre. The communal experience is essential too, but the engagement of all five senses, the visceral quality of it all, is what truly transports you. Not all shows use scent as part of the performance, but those that do hold a prominent place in my mind.

Fascinating facts pepper the ride, interspersed with intimate reminiscing. The secrets of the neighborhood are layered with history. Jimenez explains how the Native People's land was claimed by German and Italian immigrants ("Who became 'white people'"); then gave way to the Latinx and Black communities, and now folks that can afford triple the rent. With every twist and turn, various forms of erasure and renaming occurred.

Some of the area's history is gone for good, destroyed by a fiery blaze. There was a time when the Bronx was burning, but so too was Bushwick. But like a phoenix, Bushwick found a way to bounce back and rise from the ashes. "Out of the rubble, we build anew," Jimenez proclaimed.

The riders discover colorful local haunts like the hourly-rates Kings Hotel, El Puente, the community center where youths go to stay out of trouble, and two Tony's Pizzerias (one delivers, one doesn't). Like a good sample platter, it only makes you hungry for more.

Jimenez is very comfortable in the driver's seat as he steers the experience seamlessly from history lessons, personal reflections, keen observations, and interactive multimedia aspects.

Nothing disturbs his flow and groove, not even a quick trip to the bodega or fist bump out the window. It's all part of the show. A true poet at heart, his presence is so enthralling that one hardly notices that 90 minutes have passed and the sun is setting.

It's a brilliant concept, but the real genius lies in the execution. It makes one wonder why every city and neighborhood doesn't have an experience like this? Only most would be hard-pressed to find a performer and guide as delightful, engaging, informed, and devoted to his home as Modesto Flako Jimenez.

BWW Review: TAXILANDIA Takes a Ride Through Bushwick
Modesto Flako Jimenez, Nancy Young, Cindy Sibilsky, and Nicky Paraiso pose with a Bushwick Biggie mural. Photo by Modesto Flako Jimenez.

Taxilandia is presented by Oye Group, New York Theatre Workshop, and the Bushwick Starr in association with The Tank. Taxilandia offers four experiences for the New York City run: Virtual Salons (through March 20), Taxilandia Gallery (free through May 3) Textlandia (a text message experience through May 3), and Taxi Rides with Flako ($25 through May 2 via a ticket lottery, maximum three per ride). For more information, visit: www.taxilandia.com


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From This Author Cindy Sibilsky