Review: MIGRAAAAANTS OR: THERE'S TOO MANY PEOPLE ON THIS DAMN BOAT! at ExPats Theatre

Through April 7, a 2016 play confronts a situation timely in 2024.

By: Mar. 17, 2024
Review: MIGRAAAAANTS OR: THERE'S TOO MANY PEOPLE ON THIS DAMN BOAT! at ExPats Theatre
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Romanian-born playwright Matéi Vişniec has created a steeplechase of a play about the 2015 "migrant crisis" in Europe. His indecision about which style to use challenges director Karin Rosnizeck and her stalwart, six-actor troupe who must shift from realism to farce to musical theatre to satire to Brechtian theatricality so that by the time they reach a unified point of view at the end of the 90-minute, intermission-less production, their gears seem a bit stripped, and the audience are at risk of losing the plot. No matter how strongly Vişniec employs irony, the deaths of thousands of migrants cannot be nor be portrayed as funny.

Each of the hard-working actors has more than one solo turn in this episodic piece; Rosnizeck has cast them well and used them effectively so that they move in and out of supporting, leading, and ensemble roles with skill and facility. Vivian Allvin uses her dominatrix chops both as a Balkan peasant with neither a political agenda nor a sympathetic bone in her body and then as a blazer and pumps-wearing "adviser" to the President of an unnamed country whom she coaches on how to spin the "issue" that migrants present: scary-good work. Irina Koval never speaks as an old woman searching on a Greek island for a grandchild's grave: one of the play's most moving sequences thanks to Koval's silent evocation of hope, grief, fear, and loss. Ege Yalcinbas has a fine moment as a Muslim woman who sums up the inequality of the sexes valued by many Muslim cultures.

Brock Brown knows how to balance courage with fearfulness as Elihu, one of the immigrants who chooses to risk his life to seek a hoped-for better life. Eli EL, as a Smuggler Boss, convincingly bullies people into the kind of submission required to take such risks. His con-man Boss dupes the vulnerable in one episode and then victim-blames them in another; EL's performance expertly reveals how the bait-and-switch game can be deadly. George Kassouf's finest work comes in the aforementioned Greek graveyard episode when he, not unkindly but very bluntly, must explain how the Greek cemetery filled with the graves of nameless dead works. However, most of MIGRAAAAANTS. . . consists of Vişniec's efforts to make comedy out of a series of tragic, historical events. His script requires the actors to try to force audience participation from time to time--another abrasive element that does not fit the subject matter.

Jonathan Dahm Robertson's scenery and projections provide news footage of what really happened. The sight of dozens of people being tossed into the ocean as a rubber boat capsizes, for example, blocks laughter and demotes irony. His lovely blue ribbon backdrop complements footage of the ocean itself. Alisa Mandel's costumes support the actors' many changes of character. She's a master of what a hat, a belt, a hoodie, a babushka, and some hot pink falsies can do to characterize a scene or detail a moment. Props Designers don't ever seem to earn any awards, but Martin Bernier deserves a "prop of the year" salute for the carrying case he built for a certain soft cola drink.

Rosnizeck's five-year-old company, which last year won the Helen Hayes Award endowed by John Aniello for Outstanding Emerging Theatre, has definitely selected a play that confronts a topical subject at an important time in US history. Her detailed and informative program notes do a better job than the playwright of highlighting the urgency of doing the right thing regarding immigrants. Until the US government resolves its own approach to immigrants, it may be too soon to laugh at the ways in which European governments handled/mishandled their own approaches.

(Photo, L to R George Kassouf, Eli EL, and Brock Brown, by Teresa Castracane)




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