Bruise and Thorn are LBGTQ second cousins sharing an apartment and living on a subsistence wage in Jamaica, Queens, while working at a Laundromat called “Clean It.” Their boss is the no-nonsense Mrs. Gallo who has both legal businesses like a Live Halal Food Shop and illegal businesses like a cockfighting establishment. For extra cash to pay for rent, Bruise is servicing Mrs. Gallo, and he and Thorn are brought into her cockfighting contest for another paycheck with disastrous results.
Bruise who is gay is studying surreptitiously for his GED and dreams of becoming a chef. Thorn who is described as gender fluid switching from he to she and back again has dreams of becoming a trans Boricua Nikki Minaj on America’s Got Talent. Thorn has a thuggish boyfriend nicknamed Lizard who appears to be into several dishonest undertakings. By the end of the play, several murders have taken place, both good and evil characters have been neutralized, and dreams appear to have come true.
Add to this a homeless man called “Old Fart,” four dancers who play roosters, and an actor playing The Cow, and you have a slight idea of this over-the-top new extravaganza named for its protagonists, Bruise & Thorn by Queer, Puerto Rican and Dominican playwright C. Julian Jiménez who has a great many theater credits. While it is never clear if some of the play appears to be fantasy sequences, the use of Spanish, street slang and talk of rappers will make this a difficult play for older members of the audience to follow. However, Jesse Jou’s production for Pipeline Theatre Company is startling, amped up and intense. The dance sequences by choreographer Cesar Valentino are fiery hot, and the finale with its sparkling costumes by Saawan Tiwari is eye-filling and joyous.
Both the cast and the production team are entirely in tune with the style of the play and the milieu. As Bruise, Fernando Contreras is smart-mouthed, tough and a fighting-mad Nuyorican. Jae W. Brown’s 18-year-old Thorn is a bigger than life character who changes genders on a dime and is bold, brassy and audacious. Zuleyma Guevara as the businesslike Mrs. Gallo is a force to be reckoned with as she makes outrageous demands but softens and then gives concessions. Carson Fox Harvey as the play’s ultimate villain is sinister and threatening throughout.
Veteran actor Lou Liberatore disappears into his characterization of the homeless man who appears to be the voice of reason. The expert dance ensemble made up of Kevin/a Taylor, Jason Ford, Ashton Muñiz and Sijean González play roosters who eventually take part in the cockfighting sequences and vogueing for all they are worth in each of the production numbers. The role of The Cow played by Billy Nugent is one of the many unexplained elements in the play.
The production is eye-filling but there are unexplained elements there too. While the basic set design by Sasha Schwartz is the multicolored laundromat with its pink, green and blue driers which alternates with a wall and with a Pizza Hut and Taco Bell sign, it is never entirely clear when we are at the Live Halal Food Shop or the Cockfight Pit. Tiwari’s costumes vary from the professional outfits of Mrs. Gallo, to the queer togs of both Bruise and Thorn to the unaccountable Roman helmets for the roosters. Harbour Edney’s lighting design varies from the recessed lighting of the laundromat to the brightly lit cockfighting pit, but does not entirely differentiate between day and evening sequences. In most evidence is the sound design and transition music by Matt Otto. Among specialized members of the production team are Brian Quijada and Marvin Quijada as rap consultants and Denise Alessandria Hurd for fight/intimacy direction.
C. Julian Jiménez’s Bruise & Thorn is not for everyone. Older theatergoers may be put off by both the raw language and street slang that they will not know. However, if you want to be aware of what the younger playwrights and audience members are thinking, you cannot afford to miss this over-the-top Queer Ball event. Pipeline Theatre Company’s production has to be seen to be believed.
Bruise & Thorn (March 4 – 27, 2022)
Pipeline Theatre Company
A.R.T./New York Theatres, 502 W. 53rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.pipelinetheatre.org/tickets
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission