We've reached a time when Broadway is producing shows based on movies and is habitually reviving old revivals, so Saturday night I was pleased to find a solid new drama in a small (89-seat) East Village theater. It's been a very long time since I've seen a show in such an intimate space and I'd forgotten what a challenge and a treat it can be for the cast and audience.
Cloven Tongues, Victor Lesniewski's new play at The Wild Project, is a drama about the effects of sex trafficking and war. When Lela (the excellent Ema Lakovic), a woman with an unknown past, is arrested while crossing the Canadian border, she is taken in by Jenny (Catherine Curtin), a social worker, and a priest, Ronald (Casey Biggs). Lela has a past, and as we soon find out, helping her is no simple task as she has experienced a brutal life that she doesn't wish to talk about.
"The play is really a mystery," explains director Michelle Bossy. "There's someone on the stage and she is not telling us anything about herself and we spend a good part of the play wondering what's wrong with her and how to fix her. It gets unlocked when a miracle - some kind of miracle -- happens on stage. It's very theatrical and very exciting."
Playwright Victor Lesniewski added:
"It's not simply about human trafficking and PTSD issues. It's about how we communicate with each other, how we help each other and the reasons we reach out. It's about the altruism of our lives. The play is about finding ourselves and how we do that with service to others. It's also about things that we do successfully when we communicate with others and the things that get in our way sometimes."
Lesniewski also pointed out that we frequently get in our own way, but fortunately he hasn't done that as a playwright. The consequences of war are not dealt with easily but that doesn't mean they should be ignored. Too often when plays try to tackle very serious issues they come off as preachy and pedantic, but that is not the case with Cloven Tongues. Lesniewski has a gift for writing dialogue and he is able to present a brutal story through believable exchanges between the play's characters. If you believe that theatre exists only in Times Square, I urge you to take a trip to the East Village and see Cloven Tongues. Victor Lesniewski is a big and fresh new voice worth hearing.