Village Voice, Theater, Alexis Soloski, October 24, 2006
GET THE DRIFT
Dislocation, Disappearance, and DJs at P.S. 122
In Tale of 2Cities: An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks, Heather Woodbury stages a scene at a dire dinner party in 1950s L.A. Amid the Triscuits and cheeseballs, a screenwriter husband and his do-gooder wife argue over plans to replace a Mexican barrio with public-housing projects. The wife worries that it will destroy the local culture, but the husband applauds it. "He said that's what he liked about California," the wife recounts in a letter to her sister, "no culture whatsoever."
But writer-performer Woodbury, who relocated from the L.E.S. to Echo Park some years ago, has devoted herself to proving that husband wrong. Her two-part, five-hour epic chases dozens of characters from 1941 to 2001, zooming between NYC and L.A. She and six other actors play Mexican grandmas, Irish cabbies, Puerto Rican delinquents, and a Jewish rabbi with a passion for the muffins at Starbucks. Woodbury cuts and pastes a prodigal collage of races, classes, genders, and ethnicities. These all somehow stem from the Dodgers' move from Brooklyn to L.A. and the psychic upheaval that wrought. Her nominal subject is dear to most any Downtowner's heart: gentrification and its discontents.
Surprisingly, Tale of 2Cities is in some ways less ambitious than Woodbury's previous work. She last sojourned at P.S.122 with What Ever: An American Odyssey in Eight Acts, an eight-hour solo narrative in which she played over a hundred characters. But excess still abounds in the current show and - shades of William Blake - there's wisdom here as well. She's a tender writer, almost to a fault, supplying silver linings for each cloud she introduces. Indeed, she's written an ace part for herself in the character of Miriam, that do-gooder wife at the dinner party, an East Coast naïf sorely eager to rout poverty and injustice.
Under Dudley Saunders's direction, each actor is allowed at least one knockout turn. Leo Marks delights as the cabbie, especially in conversation with Ed Vassallo as the rabbi. Diane Rodriguez is striking as the dead grandmother, whose grandson Manny (the extraordinary Michael Ray Escamilla) composes a most unusual dirge. A remarkable DJ, Manny determines to make a funeral mix from his grandmother's records, to "embalm her in samples of my music, wash her feet in rhythm, oil her hair in song." Manny's art may be the best analogue for Woodbury's. She, too, manages multiple songs, layering them, overlapping them, bestowing scratches, reverb, samples. She blends idle monologue with fierce interrogation, party conversation with incantation, gossip with threnody. And if the shining-eyed audience reception is any sign, you can definitely dance to it.