Implications of Cohabitation by Vanessa Verduga–who stars in the production as Nelson and Carmen’s love child Sarah–is a humorous exploration of the dynamics of family and the messy parts of life, but more than anything else it is the story of a father’s redemption. Played by Anthony Ruiz, Nelson is self-destructive and selfish, and has developed a reputation for unwittingly letting his family down time after time. Turning in a layered and authentic performance, Ruiz’s Nelson is affable and amiable, despite his glaring history of bad decisions.
Jenny and Kevin, who first hand saw their mother’s suffering, find themselves at odds with Nelson’s recent change of heart. Played by Connie Saltzman, Nelson’s youngest daughter Jenny is an aspiring Punk Rock musician, with a powerful angst fueled by her tarnished childhood. Saltzman, a bubbly and quirky actress, does an admirable job playing down her age to match that of the character, but unfortunately Jenny is written pretty straight-forward and lacks much room for character development.
Unlike Jenny, Nelson’s only son Kevin is a more robustly written personality. Kevin, who is a struggling actor and is living out of wedlock with his girlfriend, butts heads with his father when Nelson decides to pass judgment on his son for his actions and lifestyle. This father/son dynamic–coupled with Andres de Vengoechea’s strong performance as Kevin–is the foundation of one of the more interesting relationships in the entire play.
Sarah, the alienated love-child of Nelson and Carmen, has the richest and most complex relationship with her father of all three children. Played by playwright Verduga, Sarah is at conflict with herself when it comes to her father. On the one hand, she feels betrayed and abandoned, but on the other she longs for the father figure that she never had growing up. A self-reliant, strong and successful woman, Sarah is portrayed with meaningful depth and complexity by Verduga, whose nuanced performance is surely a result of her intrinsic knowledge of the script.
As if he didn’t have enough to resolve just between his children, Nelson also recognizes that he has unfinished business to take care of with Sarah’s mother, Carmen. Heart-broken, jaded, and protective of her daughter, Adriana Sananes’ Carmen is a weather-worn woman who–through the hurting and betrayal–takes pride in the fact that she raised her daughter all on her own. Sananes’ performance is rife with motherly charm, and her character’s history with Nelson is the life behind his journey for redemption.
Though Nelson’s relationship with his children is the main focus of the story, Verduga’s script also made room for a few supporting characters who, though removed from the main story, still have a strong presence in the script. A homeless man played by David Pendleton finds Nelson at his lowest and helps him work through his thoughts, while Gladys Perez plays a vivacious waitress at Nelson’s favorite Colombian restaurant who has an opinion of her own about Nelson’s familial woes. Standing out the most among the supporting characters is James Padric as Jake, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend who came out as gay and left her for another man. In a stand-out scene that is arguably the funniest in the entire show, Padric’s character accidentally takes a handful of painkillers just as he is about to meet Nelson.
Directed by Leni Mendez, Implications of Cohabitation is a smooth running machine, albeit some undeveloped moments in the script. The staging is fluid and the story is clear, but some exchanges between characters are borderline inauthentic. The set design by Anna Grigo is effective, but slightly repetitive. The main set piece is an empty apartment, and the decorum of the apartment is changed to reflect the change in location. Unfortunately, these changes are minimal and don’t do much to enhance or differentiate one scene from the next.
The costume design by Steven Daniel is effective and appropriately tailored to each character. There is a clear distinction between the wardrobe choices for Nelson and Carmen, versus those of the children. Jenny is more oft than not seen in studded punk gear, while Kevin is dressed in all black catering attire–the life of an actor. Sarah, a professional woman, is dressed in mostly pants suits and formal dresses.
Implications of Cohabitation is a heartwarming story despite its flaws, and is held up by Ruiz and Verduga’s well-developed relationship. However, despite the well-rounded performances from the cast, Verduga’s new play is ultimately hindered by a handful of forced moments that prevent the production from ever reaching the emotional climax the story deserves.
Implications of Cohabitation (through August 26, 2016)
The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.sudacastheater.com
Running time: 90 minutes with one intermission