Freedom, NY: A Story of Loss

By Christina E. Rodriguez

Deep and emotional, yet not a tear-jerker. Multi-layered and dense, but easy to follow. Bilingual yet easily understood by all those watching. “Freedom, NY” is a play that falls into all of these categories, making points in many different aspects of the human experience. Written by Jennifer Barclay, the play recently world premiered at Theater Wit, produced by Teatro Vista in their 20th year of production.

Joe Minoso, the 32-year-old director of the play, says that he first read for the part of Gabriel back in 2005 and decided to tell his new production company about it. This eventually led to the production of a shortened version, before deciding to perform it in its entirety.

The play tells the story about neighbors, to put it simply; A small black family, consisting of Portia, a 12-year-old girl, and her grandmother Justice Mayflower, played by Cheryl Lynn Bruce, and their new neighbor Gabriel, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Throughout the hour and a half performance, Gabriel, played by Desmin Borges, prepares all the intricate necessities for a Dia De Los Muertos on to his front lawn for the day to come.

“My dream was to do it for Dia De Los Muertos to educate people about the holiday,” said Minoso. “The play itself was a discussion of what it is and it’s very culturally placed. We did what we could to find a balanced altar so that it speaks to everyone.”

Parallel to Gabriel’s preparations, Portia’s story emerges. The year before the play is set, Portia watched as a man shot and killed two of her friends, taking a third hostage. Every week, they flyer the town looking for Molly but never find her. Gabriel, a janitor at the school, finds out and begins to ask Portia about her friends.

“I wanted to tell the story of this little girl trapped by her own fear,” Minoso said during a phone interview. “At the end of the day, the relationship was lovely between the immigrant and the young girl. I tried to show potential to be open to the rest of the world.”

The story of loss is prevalent in the play, especially when Gabriel talks to his dead mother as if she’s still alive, being, above all else, comical. Portia’s parents left her in the hands of her grandmother, who is hurt by her daughter’s neglect. Portia, of course, internally mourns the loss of her friends.

“It tackles a lot of heavy subject matter,” said Minoso. One of most obvious themes in the play, however, dealt with race relations between Blacks and Latinos. Minoso pointed out that in most plays the racial tension is usually between whites and people of color. But the reality of it, is that there are many instances of racial tension where it’s brown on brown, he said.

“It was a good opportunity to take a look at race in a different light,” he explained. In the original script, Portia and Justice Mayflower are white characters, not Black. This is also the first time Teatro Vista takes such a strong look at race in a play, although it has been lightly touched upon in “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” and ‘Our Lady of the Underpass.”

“Mayflower has been there since she was born in a predominantly black area that has slowly been gentrified and she was given this position as [justice of the peace] that she’s holding on to for dear life,” explained Minoso. What the audience doesn’t see is that the rest of the community is white, doubting her ability to keep the peace, and instead of fighting back, Mayflower begins to turn her own feelings of resentment on Gabriel.

“It’s about what fear can do to someone,” said Minoso. “All events were decisions based in xenophobic fear.”

The end of the play comes on the Day of the Dead, when the climactic result of Justice Mayflower’s fear and pressure takes hold of her and all that has been held within comes out. It isn’t until then when Portia realizes that she can once again step outside of her grandmother’s house, out of her front gate, out into the world. The first place she goes is to Gabriel’s yard right next door.

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