J. Stephen Brantley’s “Pirira” is a thrumming, ticking, seething play that is an intense experience in the complexities of the world. While we may think that countries like Malawi are very different from where we live, people want the same things. And when you realize how connected we all are, the results are deeper still.
“Pirira” opens Luna Stage’s opening latest season, with new Artistic Director Ari Laura Keith at the helm of both the company and this play. She and Brantley have been working on this play together since it was a 10-minute, two-person scene, which has deepened into a Mozart quartet, with a grand design that demonstrates razor-sharp wit and a cast with the timing to make the razor cuts that we don’t know we’ve sustained until we see the blood. This ensemble is amazing, as they move amongst one another that is more choreography than blocking. Immersive, present and gripping, this is an important play for our time. Brantley knows well, that of which he speaks. He was working for Madonna and spent a great deal of time on the ground in Malawi, the result of which will linger long after the lights go down.
We are simultaneously in Malawi and Manhattan, in an immersive theatre experience that is a storeroom in a war torn country and a storeroom in a florist’s shop. We first meet Gilbert (Kevis Hillocks) as he’s preparing the shop for the day’s work, trimming flowers and assuring everything is in apple-pie order. Chad (David Gow) is his louche co-worker and, on the surface, it would seem that Chad has had a charmed life compared to Gilbert, a Malawi émigré. Chad challenges Gilbert on many levels, yet the challenge is not one-sided, and they learn a great deal about one another in a very short time.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in both a figurative and literal sense, we meet Jack (John P. Keller) and Ericka (Naja Selby-Morton) as they are fleeing an angry mob, with Ericka literally carried away, by Jack, as she struggles to understand what’s happening. She’s an urbanite accounting person, who’s been brought in to assure that money given to the non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization), through which Jack is drilling wells to bring water to Malawi, is being best utilized. While at home, being a black woman has its challenges, it is the color of her shirt that gets her in trouble in Malawi–her color is red. She feels she looks best in that, but it is also the color of choice of dissidents challenging the government. It’s goodbye Louis Vuitton and cellphone, and hello storeroom. Each pair circles the other, each on their own thread, hence the Mozart, until the worlds collide in a way that gave me shivers of recognition. We are all connected and, while the ways are not always immediately evident, “Pirira” provides many moments to ponder the ways we may all be better to one another.
The Context Room actually continues throughout the foyer area, so that the Context Room proper is devoted to a photo gallery, where the works are for sale, to benefit an organization bringing water where it’s needed. This is an evening that will fill your soul as well as your mind. Make this an evening with friends, you will always remember.
“Pirira” runs through October 28. Tickets are selling out quickly so for your best chance at the seats and dates you want, visit www.lunastage.org