BWW Review: PIRIRA by J. Stephen Brantley and Directed by Ari Laura Kreith at Luna Stage
Editor's Note: We welcome this guest review by Carlos Patrick Quinn for Pirira presented by Luna Stage through October 28.
Pirira by J. Stephen Brantley opens Luna Stage's 2018-19 season with a bang. Under the new leadership of Ari Laura Kreith (who directed the production) Pirira continues and expands Luna's commitment to timely plays where social justice is an undercurrent. It's an absorbing, ambitious and big-hearted play with solid performances and ingenious staging by Kreith.
Pirira opens with two young men, Gilbert and Chad at work in the back room of a Greenwich Village flower shop. At least Gilbert is working. Chad is probing, teasing, vamping, flirting and eating. Gilbert is from the African nation of Malawi, one of the poorest countries on earth. A door bursts open and Ericka and Jack tumble in. They are American aid workers in Malawi taking shelter from a dangerous riot outside. Jack is seasoned and compassionate, and despite the challenges of working in such a poor country, he seems to love it. Ericka is an MBA who came to do the books of the struggling NGO and questions everything about her choice. Miraculously, these four on two separate continents, share the same small stage and it works thanks to Kreith's supple choreography and her nimble performers. Kreith continues Luna's expertise in turning their small, remarkably adaptable performance into just about anywhere in the world and in Pirira's case two anywheres.
Malawi is ravaged by poverty, drought and AIDs as we learn from Jack and Ericka as they tussle over their work and commitment to it. Those issues spread all the way over to the other side of the world (and other side of the stage) to Chad and Gilbert's interaction. Chad is flamboyantly, proudly gay and Gilbert is not at all happy about that for complicated reasons.
Pirira is a satisfying meat and potatoes drama that wears its big heart on its torn sleeve. Four talented actors anchor us in the intricate story, guided by director Kreith's deft, fluid touch. David Gow is a standout as Chad, using his supple body to suggest worlds that amplify the script. A lot happens in a brisk 70 minutes but it's a solid and ultimately uplifting work. The lobby and context room contain pertinent information about Malawi and what it's up against and it's worth reading. There's a quote from the playwright up there too. "Perhaps the simple refusal to abandon all hope is, itself, heroic." Well said. Well done.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Luna Stage