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You Are Now The Owner Of This Suitcase

March 16, 2011 / Jackson Heights / Dance & Theater / Queens Buzz. Continued / If needed use the search function to find the introduction to this story. A new theatrical work by 167 theatre about Jackson Heights opened Friday, March 11th at PS 69. I had the opportunity to preview it in advance of the opening.

Jackson Heights - The Backdrop Of An Original Play

167 theaterThe play opens as we hear a montage of people discussing Llorona [a legendary forbidden place haunted by a spirit and where people forbid their children to go]. There’s graffiti on the walls, garbage in the streets, and “I heard a girl went there once and when she came back, she was a boy”.

In the next scene, the two characters around who the play revolves, are on a plane destined to New York from Ecuador [see photo in story introduction]. The young man [Joe] is an American returning from a frustrating trip abroad and the young woman [Larita] is heading off to New York to visit her grandmother in Jackson Heights … and to determine whether she wants to make her life there [here].

167 theatre - Writes A Jackson Heights Tale

theatre 167The two characters strike up a conversation and during a bit of turbulence, Laurita calms Joe, by reading passages out of her love story novel. As the two depart at the airport, Laurita inadvertently grabs Joe’s suitcase.

The play then moves on into the magical neighborhood of Jackson Heights. The book Laurita is reading from provides a bit of continuity, as a woman in Jackson Heights is reading from the same novel in her apartment [see photo to right].

During the intermission I asked the producer, Ari Kreith, why she injected fantasy into this play. She explained to me that she believed that all of us want a little magic to come into our lives. I looked at her, contemplating about how many times I had wished for a bit of magic in my own life.

ari laura kreithShe went on, telling me that we must be open to seeing the magic in our everyday lives. I began thinking back to my own experience living here in Queens ... and about the many times I had encountered a bit of everyday magic, not only on the streets of Jackson Heights, but in many of the magical neighborhoods of Queens as well.

I inquired about the title, You Are Now The Owner Of This Suitcase. Ari told me that the title had come out of the research the seven writers had done to create / develop this story / play. In the process of editing the raw material they had gathered - bags, baggage and ultimately the suitcase emerged as a sort of metaphor for magic. Artistic Director Ari Kreith is shown in the foreground of the photo above watching the dress rehearsal of You Are Now The Owner Of This Suitcase.

Jackson Heights - Creative Theater

angie balsamo dramaturgWhen I had first arrived at PS 69 to preview the play, I had sat down next to Angie Balsamo, dramaturg for the play [shown taking notes in the photo to your right]. The dramaturg acts as a consultant to the theater company, helping them refine their craft. Ari and Angie both told me how the writers [and Angie] had fanned out into the neighborhood of Jackson Heights last fall [Ari lives in Jackson Heights so she’s out in the community daily]. Their goal, established by Ari, was to go out and talk to the people of Jackson Heights and to gather anecdotes, quotes and vignettes for the play, while breathing in some of the magical flavor of the neighborhood.

As such the play, You Are Now The Owner Of This Suitcase, is a series of vignettes, based on the lives of real people living in or traveling through Jackson Heights. Their stories, which include the Indian / Bangladeshi / Pakistani cell phone salesman, the Chinese / Korean dry cleaner, the Australian traveler, the young American live theater jackson heights queens original theatermale in search of love and / or life’s meaning, the young Ecuadorian beauty looking for her grandmother and / or home, a mother trying to teach her son the danger of eating sweets [shown in the photo to your left], the single woman looking to have children … and ...

The play has a bit of poetry written into it, as well as advice to lovers, and the Jackson Heights Riddle. The Jackson Heights riddle runs as follows, "Seven of these on a circle blue. Each of these must come to you." The advice for lovers is given by a female character in the play who is trapped in an unhealthy relationship. She tells us that "I will be forever yours, to the one whose heart is true, and who grants me my soul through and through".

A Jackson Heights Romance Or Novella?

And then there’s the Prince, the street lady / Russian muse and the characters out of a book who come to life. They come from the very same book that Laurita was reading to Joe while they were bumping around through turbulence on the airplane [see photo shown in the introduction].

you are now the owner of this suitcaseThe book in the play is about a love story. In the play the charming prince and his sidekick escape out of the book [like the characters coming off the screen in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo] and embark on a mission to save a damsel in distress [she's the one in the unhealthy relationship mentioned above].

The prince wants to ‘escape out of the book’ and into real life because he is looking for ‘real love', not the fictionalized fairytale love as written in the book. This is the reverse, one might say, of the real people who are seeking a fairytale romance [as written in a book] in their real lives.

The muse, the cell phone salesman and the suitcase provide the venues for the introduction of magic [see photo above right]. The magic seems to come into the lives of the characters at a time when they most need it. But perhaps they really didn’t need magic at all. Perhaps they just needed to decide that they were going to make a bit of magic happen on their own. Perhaps that's the magic in the message of You Are Now The Owner Of This Suitcase.

You Are Now The Owner Of This Suitcase Photos

theater 167A couple of times I found transitions between scenes, and relationships in the play, a little difficult to follow, but it all came together in the end. And while I enjoyed the creativity of the monster costumes [see photo to your left], I found the scene a bit distracting. Overall the play is engaging, heart-warming, and generally well acted. And as they say on Broadway, “Bravo.”

Here’s a link to the 167 theatre website where you can purchase tickets for its shows which run the last three weekends in March [also see the theatre section of the Queens Events calendar using the top tool bar link].

Many thanks to Ari Keith, Angie Balsamo who provided comments for this story and to the cast and crew of theatre 167 who contributed to this theatrical production.

you are now the owner of this suitcaseProduced by: Ari Laura Kreith - Artistic Director, Jenny Lynn Bader - Director of Artistic Development, Les Hunter - Literary Director, Angie Balsamo - Dramaturg, Ross DeGraw - Technical Director, Sean McCain - Production Stage Management, Atonia Fairchild - Line Producer, Michael Wilson Morgan - Production Designer, Virginia Drda - Puppetry Consultant.

Written by: Mando Alvarado, Jenny Lynn Bader, Barbara Cassidy, Les Hunter, Joy Tomasko, Gary Winter, & Stefanie Zadravec, with direction by Ari and Angie [see above].

Acted by: John P. Keller*, Stephanie LaVardera, Kathleen Choe*, Oscar Fabela, Waldo Mayo*, Ross DeGraw*, Kim Carlson*, Patricia Becker, Bernardo Cubria*, Oscar Fabela, Emma Ramos, Samuel T. Gaines*, Arlene Chico Lugo, Rajesh Bose*, Elodie Morss. *Members of AEA - the Actors Equity Association.


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