“Notes on Killing Seven Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Board Members,” a raunchy, deranged new play by Mara Vélez Meléndez, is psychodrama with an accent — and I mean psycho in the nicest way possible. A co-production of Soho Rep and the Sol Project, the show imagines a young woman with a personal mission to assassinate the bureaucrats responsible for restructuring Puerto Rico’s debt and the queer receptionist who supports her. A political allegory, a savage drag show and a two-man madness with far too many gunshots for anyone who has experienced the news of the past week, “Notes” is a trigger warning written in big and glitter, a fever dream with banners.
For those who don’t follow Puerto Rico’s political and economic fortunes, a brief history lesson will prove helpful. By 2016, Puerto Rico’s credit crunch had worsened significantly, with the island owing more than $70 billion. In a move with celebrity backing – Lin-Manuel Miranda was a supporter at the time – Congress passed the Puerto Rican Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, known as Promesa, which gave an unelected council the power to restructure the island’s debt and tax public finances. austerity. Few members of this council lived in Puerto Rico, which added to the criticism of the act as colonialist.
These circumstances brought Lolita (Christine Carmela), a Puerto Rican trans woman, to the New York offices of Promesa’s board of directors, with a gun in her purse. Lolita is not her real name, but she did her hair, she tells us, after Lolita Lebrón, a Puerto Rican nationalist who participated in an armed attack on the House of Representatives in 1954. This attack injured five members of Congress; our Lolita targets more bodies. Yet, before she can murder anyone, a receptionist (Samora la Perdida) intercepts her and takes her gun.
The receptionist has no name and her gender identity is unresolved.
“I did not find, was not satisfied? With any word that perhaps represents me,” they say.
A drag performer, the receptionist suggests that Lolita prepare for her task by pretending to shoot a drag version of each of the seven council members. Ideally, they have a propeller gun covered in gold glitter in a handy drawer, which she can use in their skit. The receptionist then provides a fabulous rendition of each member – dancing and lip-syncing, flawless makeup.
Crazy, exuberant and rightly angry, Vélez Meléndez’s play borrows from European absurd theatre, like the plays of Jarry and Genet, as well as from a tradition of Latin American surrealism. Under the direction of David Mendizábal, who also designed the irrepressible costumes, the show takes place less in an office and more in a shimmering theater of the mind. Is all of this real? Is it important? Hush! They’re playing Spice Up Your Life.
“Notes” is odd in its aesthetics, if not exactly in its form. The drag personae emerge cleanly, one after the other, and the scenes take on a kind of similarity. But the play challenges Carmela and la Perdida to negotiate realism, fantasy and everything in between, a challenge they accept with giddiness, sometimes finding genuine emotion even amidst the irrational and bizarre. And there’s fun, of course, in seeing the Perdida emerge in every new outfit. (This is probably a show where the backstage action – the frantic donning and doffing of wig, makeup, and costume – is probably just as exciting as what happens on stage.)
Ultimately, Vélez Meléndez cares less about political consequences and more about individual identity. Will Lolita carry out a mass murder? Maybe! Will she push the receptionist towards self-determination? Now there is a question.
The moral of “Notes”, simply stated by Lolita, is both provocation and invitation: “The journey of decolonization begins with oneself! Few of us can significantly affect Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis or its thwarted journey to statehood or independence. But can we shake it, shake it, shake it, with authenticity? Can we govern ourselves in our private lives? “Notes” suggests that with enough glitter, we can.
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