Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Review Dolphins and Sharks

Dolphins and Sharks
by James Anthony Tyler

Prisoners Of The Copy Chain Gang

On the door of a grubby Harlem copy shop is taped a notice - "Back To School Sale".

Dolphins and Sharks is set in a photocopying shop which American writer James Anthony Tyler describes as a "Fedex type of business".

Yusuf (Ammar Duffus) has just left school - that's to say college, NYU  - with a bachelor degree in Philosophy, trailing clouds of debt, courtesy of the federal government's privatised student loan scheme, and desperately needing a job.

The play, as the title itself reveals, is s a slightly heavy handed metaphor for an enconomy where everything is a fix for bosses to profit from debt. Retail as an updated Animal Farm.  Yet  it could also be a transatlantic warning about the dangers of profiteering from copying in more ways than one.

Many of the events, as the employees are pushed into harassing each other triggered by the evasions and demands of an unseen boss, do hinge on who has been to college and who hasn't, but not in the expected way.

Yusuf lands a job at the shop but never gets the expected wage to pay the rent.

Upwardly mobile, attractive Xiomara (Rachel Handshaw) never went to college and was once an ally of mother-of-three straight talkin' Isabel (Shyko Ammos). At the same time, Xiomara can talk the talk of The Apprentice and gets the promotion. And previous friendships fall away as she has to  gird herself for unexpected battles.

Danilo (Hermeilio Miguel Aquino) the janitor is another long term friend and ally who finds himself unexpectedly pushed aside. Pensioner and local activist Amenza Amen (Miquel Brown) attends community college, cadging free copies for local  causes, and is seemingly an idealistic voice in the midst of a rigged casino culture.

Dolphins and Sharks has a brilliant premise but trips itself up with an uneasy patchwork of issues and actions. The writing has the feel of a movie rather than a stage play, despite the steady momentum of  Lydia Parker's direction.

Handshaw is nevertheless excellent as the upwardly mobile Xiomara forced to become a calculating schemer. The sorry events are watched over, at a distance, by a photocopied picture of Barack Obama on the wall of Anna Driftmier's convincing and detailed inside-and-outside set. The grit, though, is often in the scenes with Ammos's Isabel who tells it as it is, yet finds herself betrayed.

Dolphins and Sharks touches on huge issues but as a stage play, it never quite gels. Still, the final address to the audience by Amenza has a hard edged ambiguous feel, as much empty rhetoric from another time as a call to action and it's an amber light. 

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