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.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 25, 2005

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