The European premiere of James Anthony Tyler’s play presents a slice of working life in contemporary America, based in a printing and stationery shop in Harlem. Graduating from the Finborough’s 2016 Vibrant Festival, the care and attention invested result in a successful pay-off for director Lydia Parker.
When Xiomara takes her chance for promotion to management, the lives of her staff, both old friends and new starters, suffer – to the company’s benefit. This isn’t much of a dramatic revelation. The plot holds no surprises and the play little subtlety. Thankfully some strong performances are on hand and Tyler’s observational comedy is well served.
Tyler’s characterisation is efficient. Rachel Handshaw makes the struggling new leader complex and engaging, Ammar Duffus is appealing as a recent graduate desperate for cash, and Hermeilio Miquel Aquino does well as the store’s cleaner. The evening relies on Shyko Ammos and her role of recalcitrant veteran employee – and she is super. A natural comic, Ammos makes many lines shine with a character that’s larger than life yet believable. And, when her character’s troubles come into focus, Ammos delivers a controlled yet emotional performance.
The issue of race pervades the play, interwoven with the world of employment. Startlingly, to say the least, Tyler parallels the idea of a wage slave with chain gangs. Arguments around prejudice lead to funny, provocative dialogue. The conclusion is a crusading note, presented by a magisterial Miquel Brown who plays a regular customer and long-standing local resident. There’s a call to arms, with a no-nonsense tone and direct address to the audience that feels – refreshingly – old-fashioned. Tyler’s text has an appealing sense of sincerity appropriate to his serious concerns that Parker appreciates and skilfully conveys.
Until 30 September 2017
Photo by Alexander Yip