New York City Theater
La MaMa, Manhattan
“Waxing West” is a unique take on the immigrant
specifically a Romanian woman’s struggle to adapt to an American world. Playwright Saviana Stanescu has created a world gone awry, in which time lurches sideways and nightmares dominate reality.
Daniela, a 31-year-old cosmetologist, comes to the States to marry a man she has never met. The match has been arranged by the two mothers, but both Daniela and the prospective groom approach the marriage with reluctance and uncertainty.
The future bride is further haunted by two menacing figures—the former Romanian dictator Ceaucescu and his wife Elena. The couple, now vampires, serves as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the heroine’s state of mind, with her fears, doubts, and confusions. (The symbolism of this blood-sucking pair is not lost on any one familiar with recent Romanian history.)
Stanescu has created a non-linear piece, taking great liberties with the time frame. And she draws no boundaries between the living and the dead. Yet, despite its offbeat format, the story moves forward clearly, and family scenes are lifted from the real world. Stanescu has a gift for creating all-too-believable exchanges between the mother, son, and daughter in Bucharest and the brother-sister pair in New York. Such scenes are funny, sharp, and often heart-breaking.
Unfortunately, the production does not measure up to the material. A feverish quality pervades, as, too often, the actors shout their lines and create a one-note level of hysteria. This is particularly true of MarnyeYoung in the lead role. Though her intensity and energy are effective, her performance would benefit from toning down, for a more varied delivery. Yet this is a gifted cast of performers—in particular, the sly American sister (Elizabeth Atkeson), the creepy vampires (Grant Neale and Alexis McGuinness), the sullen Romanian son (Dan Shaked), and the deliciously comic Romanian mother (Kathryn Kates).
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 9, 2007