Anyone who has looked for a New York apartment recently will relate to Paloma’s predicament. A young mother of two, whose husband has absconded and who relies on welfare checks to pay rent, she looks all over town for a decent place, but all she can afford is a roach-infested hellhole with a leaky ceiling and crumbling floors. She’s about to give up, when she finds the impossible—a clean, freshly painted flat in a well-kept building with friendly neighbors and a live-in landlord. Someone should have warned Paloma about real estate deals that sound too good to be true: Soon, she realizes that her landlord has more things on his mind than just rent.
In the new Toughing Slumaria, Janeen Stevens adapts a real-life story—whose characters knowingly dismiss as tabloid fodder—into a modern-day morality play, replete with a sermonizing chorus of narrators. Under Barry Gomolka’s direction, a game cast of multi-ethnic Slumarians vacillates between earnestness and caricature, yielding a few uneasy shifts of tone. But the compelling Hobson’s choice at the heart of the drama, and the ensuing search for justice, make for an accessible and often engaging evening.