The Legend of the Waitress and the Robber is vital, charming, and entertaining and reminds us that just a few emerge to challenge a tyrannical regime. Hence, a black box theater in New York’s BOHO. Serious artists. The human spirit survives.
The first scene is set in a cafeteria where workers receive soup from the government factory delivered by our waitress heroine (Ju Yeon Choi). Basically, workers express frustration with the potage and demonstrably challenge its paltry sustenance. Accordingly, we discover that speaking their native language, Korean, is forbidden, and instead, speak English or face severe governmental penalties.
They are warned to lower their voices when criticizing government-provided soup. Certainly, no one is permitted to speak their banned native language Korean. While trapped in a mundane, pedestrian vocation of trading and repairing cell phones, everyone dresses uniformly. Clearly, there are no spa, restaurant, or fashion department store outings.
The costumes, sets, and props are strikingly spare. Indeed, we see cardboard cutouts depicting phones, books, a record player, and records. Similarly, individuals and sets are unsettling in their simplicity and innocence.
Throughout the production, characters switch from English to Korean, with subtitles projected in both languages. Consequently, the visual and aural contrast between written English and Korean languages stings and projects another image of their persecution.
The subjugated workers are innocent and amiable with simple demands. While the more guileless they appear, the greater the persecution toward them and the malfeasance of their oppressors. Hence, those with the least resources should be protected, not diminished or subjugated.
Cell Phones Only
Denizens in this world are permitted to communicate via cell phone only. Indeed, speaking out loud is forbidden. In addition, books, music, and art are censored, banned, and destroyed while the government monitors and controls all aspects of life.
The content of this production is important.
Simple scenes set in the context of oppression are immediately pertinent, disturbing, and personal to anyone with knowledge of living in a dystopian society run by oligarchs or dictators. I recall accounts of my grandparents living in a Soviet Union-occupied Baltic state with government-controlled propaganda and mandatory protracted conscription into a foreign army. Likewise, the native language and culture were banned. Moreover, books were burned, church records were destroyed to erase history, and if one gains permission to write in the native language, they must use the Cyrillic alphabet.
Hope and Art
It seems, after all, that in a dystopian culture, there is hope. If we are fortunate, heroes emerge and discover means to enact change. A few can indeed make a difference.
Productions by not-for-profits are vital to our society’s intellectual and artistic well-being. It’s notable that The Legend of the Waitress and the Robber features live music with artists performing on a digital keyboard and percussion. We witnessed artistic freedom that produced sharing, experimentation, creativity, and imagination in a venue promoting thoughtful and profound reflection as satisfyingly entertaining.
The Legend of the Waitress and the Robber
Written by Renee Philippi, with an original score by Lewis Flinn
Directed by Renee Philippi and Eric Nightengale
Produced by Concrete Temple Theatre, Playfactory Mabangzen, Yellow Bomb Inc., and Dixon Place, in partnership with Korean Cultural Center New York
Sets by Carlo Adinolfi, costumes by Laura Anderson Barbata. Musical directors Jacob Kerzner and Hee Eun Kim.
Wednesday, May 25 – Sunday, May 29
Runtime 70 minutes without intermission
161A Chrystie Street, NYC, between Rivington & Delancey Streets)
New York, NY 10002
Readers may enjoy our other reviews like Black String, Hit the Wall, Oratorio for Living Things, Golden Shield at New York City Center, Exception to the Rule, and My Moment – 106 Women on Fighting for Themselves.