The show: "Stuck Elevator" at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, part of the International Festival for Arts & Ideas.
What makes it special?: It's a new hybrid musical-hip-hop-opera, with libretto from a local artist in a work that was first developed in New Haven several years ago.
First impressions: How do you make a full-length show about a man stuck in an elevator for 81 hours? Muzak yes; musical, well that's another story. But the creators of this new work — composer Bryon Au Yong, director Chay Yew and New Haven poet-dramatist Aaron Jafferis — make this much more than a mini "No Exit." They think big and small at the same time.
Big in a sense that they present an expansive world of imagination beyond the elevator's sliding doors; but small in the sense that it's also telling an intimate and internal story of a stranger in a strange land.
The show's creators don't alter the basic outline of the based-on-a-true-story of a Chinese restaurant deliveryman who knows very little English becoming trapped in a broken elevator for 81 hours in the Bronx.
Time flies for the audience in the fast-paced 80-minute show with terrific singing, staging, wit and performances. But for Guang (Julius Ahn, a melodious tenor with fine dramatic chops), time is painfully slow. He's an undocumented immigrant who is fearful of being found out by the police so he hesitates to make a move that might alert authorities where he is. The passing of time at first signals to him an all-important loss of income — the delivery tips he depends to survive. But as hours turn in days, it signals something more vital: His very life.
Issues of hunger, the bladder, shame, guilt and finally despair fill his over-active mind. Well, not entirely. He's resilient and comical at first. ("First time in New York I haven't had a room to share," he jokes to himself.) There are also moments when he shows serene patience, especially when he thinks back of his wife and son he left in China in order to better their lives. These are lovely, romantic and poignant moments that demonstrate what's really at stake for Guang. He also remembers his young nephew who died during the smuggling of both of them to the U.S. in the bowels of a container ship.
Then there are flights of fancy: He envisions his son achieving super-hero status and rescuing him as "Super Deliveryman." And a battle between Guang and Otis the Elevator is a funny and surreal match of man-against-machine.
These imaginary diversions lift his spirits at first but eventually they grow darker, represent an unraveling mind.
Ahn is in glorious voice and takes us on Guang's multiples journeys with a deep sense of humanity. The supporting cast members who take on multiple roles are equally wonderful: Marie-France Arcilla as Ming, his wife, is achingly tender but also knowing; Raymond Lee as Guang's son Wang Yue is full of boyish charm, hopes and alienation; Francis Jue is hysterical as the tough fortune-cookie wife of the restaurant owner; and Joel Perez is a mesmerizing presence and voice as the Hispanic deliveryman who knows all the tricks of the immigrant trade.
It's an invigorating production: full of ideas, terrific performances and timely issues and is a highlight of this year's New Haven festival.
Who will like it?: Immigrant progressives. Theater lovers who love to see the musical art form expand. General Tso.
Who won't?: Those against immigrant reform. Chinese take-out restaurants who might not be following labor laws. Otis Elevator.
For the kids: Certainly smart, engaged kids will appreciate the hip-hop sounds, but the other musical styles as well.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: "Stuck Elevator" delivers.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: Could this show's timing be any more perfect, coming just as the nation is grappling with major immigration legislation? But as politicians throw out facts and figures — and the worst of them try to demonize the undocumented immigrant — "Stuck Elevator" gives the subject a human face, an identity and an American dream.
The basics: The show, which runs 80 minutes without an intermission, plays through June 29 at Long Wharf Theatre's 200-seat Stage II, 222 Sargen Drive in New Haven. Tickets are $35 and $55, reserved seating. Student, senior and youth discounts available. Performances are Tuesday, June 25 at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, June 26 at 2 and 8 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, June 27 and 28 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 29 at 2 and 8 p.m. Information: http://www.artidea.org. and 203-562-5666 and toll-free at 888-736-2663.
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