Waxing West is a rich, moving story of immigration, culture clash, and revolution—the common political kind and a deeper, internal, personal kind. A little over a decade after the Romanian Revolution its aftermath has proved disappointing. The new government resembles the old, the economy languishes, and the people still suffer from the psychological horrors inflicted by the deposed, and dead, former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
It is circa 2000 and cosmetologist Daniela (Alexandra Nicopoulos), her brother Elvis (Jack Russ), and mother Marcela (Sue Struve) pine for something more. So, Marcela cracks a plan to send Daniela to America as a sort of custom mail-order bride for an elderly New Yorker’s son—Charlie Aronson (Charlie Cook). Charlie is a hapless, shy computer engineer with questionable social skills, strange sexual fantasies, and a lusty Bohemian sister named Gloria (Jenna Rossman). Outside of them, Daniela’s only friend in six months time is a homeless Yugoslavian named Uros (Frank Mancino) who dreams of tracing Gilgamesh’s supposed steps and nudges her to shoplift.
The idea of uprooting herself and learning a new culture, while pleasing a man she doesn’t fully know or understand, sends Daniela into nightmare-ish dreams wherein Ceausescu (Nahm Darr) and his wife, Elena (Alani Kravitz), haunt her as bloodsucking vampires. They taunt her with clownish derision and the occasional cabaret (with the delightful ensemble of Morgan Sendek and Kiernan O’Brien).
Unfolding over a year as non-linear vignettes from Daniela’s life in both Bucharest and New York City, 9/11 looms in the background. At first unnoticeably as you sit with Daniela and her family in their Romanian living room and later more prominently as the vignettes, titled and dated on a background screen, move ever closer to that moment in time, which will surely twist Daniela’s life in another unexpected way.
closes February 10, 2018
Details and tickets
Director Jordan Friend is master of doing much with very little. A few boxes. A pair of silk pajamas. Some moody lighting. A screen. He creates an ambiance that is palpable—in both fun and uncomfortable (and believable) ways, just as playwright Saviana Stanescu draws farcical and authentic characters equally well. All fleshed out by superb actors.
Darr and Kravitz could easily be misused as the undead incarnations of dictators, but they are comically dark wonders that light Daniela’s internal struggles with brilliance, being allowed (as they are just figments of her imagination) to embrace the absurd while revealing truth.
Nicolpoulos’ Daniela is sweet and naive, yet knowing—a state of being she struggles to accept because, as she says, in Romania, “We work. We don’t think.” But, her fate depends on her ability to think, as Gloria (a glorious Rossman) encourages her to do.
Does she love and want to be with Charlie, or does she want to return home? “Small word, “ she says. “this love. It is bigger in Romanian.”
And that is my one issue with this show—with its great historical context, natural dialogue, humor, and an arsenal of deep ideas. I didn’t think of it as a love story, per se. Yet, in its final moments it asks us to believe that Charlie is Daniela’s raison d’être and vice versa. I never got that. Not that I didn’t enjoy the interaction between the two. He’s an unobservant geek and she’s a kept woman who knows she’s being kept by a geek. Makes for awkward confrontations of which I am a fan. Cook is great as the easy-going Charlie. No complaints there. But, for the story to work, their love affair must be a dream, since Daniela’s life seems to be one dream after another turning into nightmares.
But, Waxing West more than makes up for this one glitch (as I perceived it) in numerous ways. Disarmingly funny and serious at the same time, it’s engrossing to the very end, when you find yourself wondering if, since dreams can become nightmares, can nightmares turn into dreams.
A moving look at the tangled webs of culture, politics, and society and their effects on the personal, Waxing West is a fresh and funny show worth your time.
Waxing West by Saviana Stanescu. Directed by Jordan Friend. Featuring Alexandra Nicopoulos, Nahm Darr, Alani Kravitz, Charlie Cook, Jenna Rossman, Sue Struve, Jack Russ, Frank Mancino, Morgan Sendek, Kiernan O’Brien. Production: Amanda Zeitler, Assistant Director; Paige Washington, Choreography; Kaitlin Tinsley, Lighting Design; Nathaniel Sharer, Scenic Design; Jordan Friend, Sound Design; Susannah Clark, Dramaturg; and Greg Strasser and Emily Crockett, Costume Design. Stage Managed by Abi Rowe. Produced by 4615 Theatre Company Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.
Part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival