Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
I like new plays. There's something juicy about 21st century theatre. The relationships are post-disappointment. There's an underlying assumption that relationships don't work, so there's no effort made to explain their disintegration. In many cases, they don't get off the ground. In recent plays, women characters are stronger and they're direct. They don't gain their power through subterfuge like Regina in Little Foxes.
Contemporary plays such as The Flick by Annie Baker, The Effect by Lucy Prebble, and Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies show bumpy relationships that are not steeped in Southern Gothic or ugly family history. These are "be here now" dramas that hold a mirror up to our colorful 21st century lives. Playwright Abe Koogler has created four characters in Fulfillment Center who really are walking around in all their craziness here in Albuquerque. And his take on these characters is very millennial. Not that the characters themselves are millennial; they vary in age from 32 to mid 60s.
As the play opens, Suzan (Laurie Thomas), an aging hippie, is applying for a job at a fulfillment center managed by Alex (James Wagner). Her car broke down in Albuquerque and she needs quick employment to get it fixed. Alex, a 32-year-old New Yorker, has just been assigned to open the Albuquerque fulfillment center. His ability to move up to a better position in Portland depends on making the facility productive.
He recognizes that Suzan is ill-equipped to physically do the work, but she's persistent in pleading for the job, He reluctantly caves. Already we can see this is a doomed connection. We then meet Alex's girlfriend Madeleine (Lillie Richardson), an African-American woman somewhat older than Alex who has followed him out from New York. Shortly into the play, Suzan meets John (Bruce Holmes) in the trailer park where she's camping by her broken car.
The story plays out in male/female scenes. Suzan leans on John for help with her car. John meets Madeleine through a social network dating service, and Susan and Alex continue to spar over Susan's poor performance at the fulfillment center.
The encounters are uniformly unsatisfying for the characters. Alex asks Madeleine to marry him, and she laughs it off. Meanwhile, she meets up with John behind Alex's back and the encounter goes poorly. Suzan desperately struggles to hang onto her job as Alex tries to scare up the courage to fire her. The characters are stumbling in the dark. They're not getting what they want, but they're not quite broken either. They're simply misfiring over and over.
Alcohol is an issue. Madeleine is slipping into alcoholism even as Alex cautions her. John has given up drinkingthat is, until an awkward encounter with Madeleine prompts him to start chugging a bottle of vodka. Suzan sips from a half-pint throughout the play. Not sure how this fits into the overall theme of disconnectedness other than the simple fact that alcoholism powerfully contributes to disconnectedness.
One peculiarity about the play is the treatment of Albuquerque. Our city gets short shriftportrayed by one character as a place where you get stuck, and as a Podunk backwater by two others. None of the characters are happy to be in Albuquerque. I realize that some people just see brown when they look at Albuquerque, but it's odd that our city is chosen as the setting as if it's a known emblem of dreariness. Usually it's El Paso or Phoenix that get emblemized as dead-end dessert cities.
The characters are unsatisfiedperhaps un-satisfiablebut the play is satisfying. Why? I guess because the characters are drawn so well. Maybe it's because Koogler is wise enough to not make them broken.
Director Jacqueline Reid does a fine job of keeping the story steady even as each character goes wobbly. Everything's right in this productionthe casting, the minimal set (Richard K. Hogle), costumes (Laurie Thomas) and music (Avalon Jay). There is a cool moment during a set change. While the same-sex characters never meet, Holmes and Wagner are moving boxes, and for a second it looks like they're about to confront each other. I assume that was intended, but who knows.
Fusion has terrific directors. Both Reid and Thomas turn in one excellent production after another, and they have magic together. Reid performs powerfully under Thomas' direction, as does Thomas' when Reid's at the helm. In this case, Thomas goes pretty far out to capture the crazily whacky Suzan. Holmes is always wonderful at presenting the naifa man-boy dumbfounded by the world. The out-of-town actors, Richardson and Wagner, both deliver strong performances. This is a wonderful production through and through.
Fulfillment Center runs through November 18, 2017, at the Cell Theatre, 700 1st. St. NW, Thursdays through Sundays. Performances on Thursdays are at 7 pm, on Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday afternoons at 2 pm, and Sundays at 3 pm. There will also be a performance on Wednesday November 15 at 6 pm. On Saturday, November 17 at 7:30, there will be a pay-what-you-wish performance at the Kimo Theatre (available at KiMotickets.com). For all other performances, adults are $40. Seniors are $37.50. Those under 30 pay your age at any performance. For reservations, go to www.fusionnm.org or call 505-766-9412.