“Frontiéres sans Frontières,” a vibrant new play by Phillip Howze and directed by Dustin Wills, follows three orphaned, stateless kids as they grapple with the ever-changing landscape of their lives. I caught a performance at The Bushwick Starr on Thursday, March 9, but you’ll be able to catch it between now and March 25.
The play is a kaleidoscope of funny, absurd displays of humanity swinging, pendulum-like, between the mundane and the magical, the minuscule and the grand. One moment we are zoomed in: a child turning water from a leaking roof into a triumphant cup of tea. The next moment we are zoomed out: systemic exploitation of natural resources.
When the lights dim in the theater and the strobing disco lights begin to flash, we are launched into the dance party of a makeshift family in their makeshift home: three scrappy kids in a refugee camp. The leader, Win (Emma Ramos), the accomplice, Noon (Mirirai Sithole), and the little follower, Pan (Tony Vo) are exuberant and dancing until—Boom!—the dance party is interrupted by bombs exploding unsettlingly close overhead. The masterful sound is executed by Pornchanok Kanchanabanca.
The kids practice stealing from foreigners. “You want learning Engaleash impress to foreigner?” asks Win. “I-like-mango,” responds Pan. Language, we quickly learn, isn’t obvious or coherent or trustworthy. Moments later Noon jumps in with “Now. Foreigner I am. I like it.” In a play that explores the toxicity of impeding foreign interference, these kids in their game of make-believe are, from the very start, a reminder of the innocence at stake here.
Dustin Wills’ direction is delightfully kinetic in its grappling with Howze’s unusual pageant of characters, each springing to life with mouthfuls of linguistic gymnastics. There’s the World Health Organization employee (Ceci Fernandez) who seems to say every spitfire line with her mouth hanging open. The word ‘change’ pronounced something like ‘chya-ah-nge’ got big laughs. We also meet the Militiaman (Rachel Leslie) with his sloppy, unnerving slurs (“Tha national guard. We. Guard tha nationalism”) and Cigarette Man (Reggie D. White) with his treasure trove of one-liners (“Time is money money is honey, honey is runny, sticky, sweet”). Each character’s language is distinct and intriguing.
Sometimes hilarious, sometimes utterly heartbreaking, the constant flickering between innocence and pain is this play’s metronome. Its rhythm is strongest at the start and ends up lagging at the finish.
Though the first act cleverly circled social commentary with sophisticated restraint, the second act was heavy-handed—ink dripping off the page heavy-handed. That being said, Ramos’ brilliant performance was worth getting through the lagging finale. Simply put: in a play about what can and cannot be bought and sold, Ramos steals the show.
You can catch a performance of “Frontiéres sans Frontières” at the Bushwick Starr Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, now through March 25. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here.
Featured image by Joey Moro courtesy of The Bushwick Starr.