It’s difficult to do
community-based theater about the dreary desperation of “the people” without sinking into the dreariness and taking the audience with you. That’s why playwright Carmen Rivera deserves praise for La Próxima Parada (The Next Stop), a
drama-comedy set entirely on a subway line that services Bushwick, Brooklyn. Anchored by the surly sweet charisma of Fátima, a single mother who has so much hurt in her heart she can’t stop berating her loved ones, the play raises
serious questions about faith, hope, and whether life in the big city ever gets better for the have-nots. Fátima is trying to catch the J train with her daughter Collette and cousin Denise so they can visit their men imprisoned at Rikers. Waiting through the long
service delays, the women
encounter Tony, a recovering drug addict, and a gauntlet
of singing, rapping, and preaching panhandlers. The hilariously rowdy repartee
between Fátima and Denise raises the banality of low-wage life to a giddy, celebratory
level, enhancing the tragic edge to their struggle.
The play is a perfect time capsule of urban Nuyorican
attitude circa 1999— this
production, in Spanish with English translation, hits all the right accents. Director Michael John Garcés gets an amazing performance out of Lisa
Zayas’s Fátima, whose
particular brand of brusque street wisdom is rarely
portrayed in New York theater. Still, the play is in dire need of editing, and there are some rough spots where the actors’ momentum comes to a screeching halt. But the feeling that no one really knows whether to believe in the future or to accept the misbegotten present is welcome relief from false happy endings.