Joe is an American businessman whose wife has left him. José is a struggling, married Mexican-American laborer whose young son has died. They’re neighbors whose properties are divided by a creek. Ever the opportunist, Joe entices José to allow him to set up a fantastical power source machine to harness energy from the creek. They go into business together and inevitably clash over personal and cultural differences.
Cubría’s premise is an imaginative and timely examination of class, ethnicity and U.S. hegemony. It’s sustained by well-crafted jokes melded with seriousness, earthy and fierce dialogue, culminating in a ridiculous and chilling denouement.
The affable Gerardo Rodriguez is hilarious as José and brings great dramatic depth to the role. As Joe, the personable Andrew Blair utilizes his geeky but appealing persona to humanize the stock character of the corporate manipulator. Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Blair have a tremendous and palpable chemistry that’s instrumental to the play’s success.
Director Lou Moreno’s staging emulates the fast pacing and surreal qualities of vintage Warner Brothers cartoons, yet the antics recede to emphasize the sensitive aspects of the play.
Cartoon elements are visually represented by Raul Abrego’s arresting scenic design. The floor of the stage is rolling in green grass, bisected by a real, bubbling creek. The energy machine is a simple but ominous contraption with tubing. Surrounding the lawn are pieces of the houses that the characters live in and upstage is a real hot tub that gets used.
Christina Watanabe’s lighting design ranges from sunny brightness to eerie dimness and moodily illuminates the water, drawing focus to it. Bart Fasbender’s sound design with its fluctuating volume further adds to the hyperreality.
From well-selected everyday clothes that distinctively represent the two men, to flamboyant outfits for the outrageous finale, costume designer Andrea Hood’s creations are perfect.
Simultaneously comical and thoughtful, Neighbors: A Fair Trade Agreement is a clever and topical fantasia.
Neighbors: A Fair Trade Agreement (through October 7, 2017)
INTAR & InViolet Theater
INTAR Theatre, 500 West 52nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.intartheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission