Theatre Review: John Kearns’ In the Wilderness Connects Communities

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How It’s New York: Irish American John Kearns is a playwright, poet and novelist who lives in the Bronx. His rousing and raucous play In the Wilderness is set in . . .  the-the-the Bronx during 1987.
How It’s Irish: Em? There’s an Irish teacher in the play and the character most like Mr. Kearns is an Irish American.
Writer Honor Molloy reviews NYIA John Kearns’ new play (read his intro about it here!) and has to say “no, stop” when it got just a little too real…

Remaining performances are Thursday 6/14/12 – 10:00pm andSunday 6/17/12 – 2:00pm.


A jumble of ages, ethnicities, and groups came together last Saturday morning to sit in the dark for an hour and fifteen minutes to watch John Kearns’ endearing story about four students and three teachers sitting at desks, writing on blackboards, and taking notes while Sisyphus metaphorically rolls a rock up the hill, and up the hill, and up the hill again.

Director Richard P. Butler assembled a super cast that featured four exuberant young students led by the outstanding Nirayl Wilcox  as Tawana and Cristina Torres as Carmen Marquez—a young poet who is hopelessly in love with her English teacher, Paul Logan, played by Stephen Jangro. Butler must have run the ensemble through numerous improvisations, as the interplay between the students and teachers was spot on. As the students’ voices reached the stage with the banter, the humor, the music and the heartbreak of living hard in the South Bronx in the late 80s, the audience was instantly back in school—St. Philomena’s High School, complete with uniforms and unruly pupils and that frustratd teacher who dreams of saving all his students, but ends up settling for saving just one kid. Maybe . . . 

At one point, Our Man Paul Logan was so earnestly discussing a love poem with Carmen that I said, “no, stop.” I’m sure there were others in the audience just as engaged.

The modest lighting and settings were ably handled by cast and crew as two scenes often intercut each other. One teacher would be teaching the girls about contraception while Our Man Logan listened to Carmen’s litany of trouble at home. This double-scene work helped the play move along at a good clip and kept the audience interested.
Cast and Crew of “In the Wilderness” (@Kath Callahan)

I had the opportunity to read an earlier version of In the Wilderness and noticed that John cut 35% to 40% of the play. It was quite good to edit unneeded exposition because it gave Kearns the space to add the Sisyphean interludes. These moments played out above a magical-sounding score. Each character stepped forward with a short monologue examining the difficulties of life and how we manage to endure and thrive.

Afterwards, many of the audience retired to Swift Hibernian Lounge on Fourth Street where we discussed the play, had a few, and smoked cigarettes on the street in the sunny afternoon like we were mitching from school.

**
In the Wilderness, is part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, New York’s premiere eco-friendly/socially-conscious arts festival.  In the Wilderness will be raising awareness and funds for the The Mercy Center for women in the South Bronx, the poorest zip code in the United States.  It runs at Upstairs at the Bleecker Street Theatre, 45 Bleecker St. at Lafayette,

Before the Thursday, June 14th show, we will be having a happy hour with beer, wine, snacks, and art and information about the South Bronx. Honor was at the lunch with friends of the Irish American Writers and Artists Salon at Swift Hibernian Lounge after Saturday’s show

There will be talkbacks and visits from representatives from the the Mercy Center as well.  For information about all of these events, visit boannbooksandmedia.com.  For information tickets and information about the show, visit http://planetconnections.org/in-the-wilderness/.  
 
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