You Are Now The Owner of This Suitcase is the second installment in a trilogy of plays produced by Theatre 167, currently playing at PS 69 in Jackson Heights, Queens until April 3, 2011. I had chanced upon the first production, 167 Tongues, last year (which I blogged about here) and had been looking forward to the next chapter with anticipation ever since. You Are Now The Owner of This Suitcase is a modern day fairytale, or as one of the characters puts it in reference to the magic cell phone in the play, an "electronic cinderella". Narratives develop and intersect, playfully and skillfully, as we glimpse into the funny, magical, and moving stories of regular people with common yet deeply personal dreams. It's a lovely play about the hopes and aspirations of the people of Jackson Heights, one of the world's most diverse neighborhoods, and which I've called home for the past year and a half.
What's most compelling to me about this play is its process of development. The director, Ari Laura Kreith (who is my neighbor) sent out a team of playwrights to interview locals and tease out stories from their childhoods. In a collaborative effort she then worked with the playwrights to "re-imagine [these stories] in the contemporary streets of Jackson Heights" (from program notes). The performance is thereby a way to offer those stories back to the community, a feedback loop of sorts, but rather than simply creatively re-interpreting them, I think what a process like this does is create a collective imaginary for the neighborhood. It's a utopian endeavor in some sense, and perhaps envisions Jackson Heights in the way that Kreith and the playwrights would like to see it-- but it is also a way for a neighborhood that already knows of its diversity to take itself more seriously and think deeply about the possibilities of living in a pluralistic society. It's completely local, totally meta, quietly groundbreaking.
For more on this production, read the excellent in-depth review by Ben Gassman of the Brooklyn Rail. Go see this show! Click here for a listing of all showings.
Photo: Samuel T. Gaines and Bernardo Cubria in a scene from You Are Now the Owner of This Suitcase. Photo © by Joel Webber.