“Desarollo” is a new, romantic, and defiant play now featuring as part of the Corkscrew Festival at 64 East 4th Street in Manhattan, playing from July 27th to August 5th. It stars Jace Alejo as Sol and Imani Russell as Young Sol, Ember Moon as Alaida and Bleu Zephra as Young Alaida, Ana Mery Rivera as Nelly and Arianna Mora as Young Nelly. Gregory Lawrence Gardner as Pops and Jackie Torres as Tia Ramona give the trio consolation in their adventures, and Geneisiss Meja as Jana/Jonah gives the trio advice in friendship. This play was written by Juliany Taveras and directed by Manny Rivera and you should go see it.
The Corkscrew Festival’s webpage for the play says, “Nelly, Alaida, and Sol, spent hot summer days daring, dancing, and documenting their way across boroughs, rivers, and storefronts. Ten years later, time has seemed to warp everything, from their once-indestructible friendship to the landscape of the streets they used to call home. “Desarollo” is an unravelling – a discovery – of what happens to the people and places we love when put under pressure; like film developing in the dark; their stories are ones of transformation, of capturing the moments that change us.”
At around 9pm on any given Saturday, the discerning art critic may, in her having-just-seen-a-show way, amble into the 2nd Avenue F train station. At that time, she is sure to be confronted with an overture of making-out couples. These couples are burning and fearsome candles of passion, which plays and works of literature have Aphrodite-and-Athena-like, sprung. “Desarollo” uses the F train’s passions as its jumping off point and thread to weave its narrative.
“Desarollo” follows three Bronx-natives as they reckon with the fountains of passion – often surrounding the MTA’s F-train. The play has an LGBTQ trio on their way – using the F train – to Coney island in their middle-school years, and their corresponding adventures in sexuality and gender 10 years later. The play considers a woman considering her sexual-identity as gay with the help of her transgender friend, and the play considers what all of this means in social context with the help of two Dominican parents.
The Bronx, which is the scenery and subject of this play, has middle-class neighborhoods such as Spuyten-Duyvil, and working-class neighborhoods that look like parts of Harlem or Queens brownstones. Therefore, there are many parts of the Bronx that are nevertheless untouched by the sort of gentrification Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Bushwhick, Bedstuy, and Greenpoint are known for.
The turning point in this play is when the transgender character Sol cuts the hair of Nelly. Tis scene is important because Nelly uses her newfound courage from the haircut to pursue her identity as a lesbian.
In this way, “Desarollo” has kinship with Sophocles’ ancient Greek play “Oedipus the King,” which is considered the foundation of Freudian psychoanalysis. In that play, King Oedipus goes to his closest advisor Tiersias, who is a blind transgender woman. Because Tiresias is neither flummoxed nor confused by sexuality – having reconciled these within their-self, shim is able to cut the baloney and tell Oedipus the truth, that he must reconcile these opposites himself. Psychoanalyst Roollo May, in his compendium Symbolism in Religion and Literature, compiled from the academic journalDaedalus, thought the myth of Oedipus had relevance to all people because the myth is about giving and receiving love. To give love takes courage, yes, but to receive love also takes courage – not to be paranioid or fearful of seduction, of being expploiated.
All of this has important implications for a showdown between the adult Nelly and her loving adversary the adult Alaida, when Nelly finally confesses her love. While the connection between Nelly and Alaida’s suspicions and Rollo Mays’ defense of love are intuitive, the duo’s discussion of Roland Barthes’ concept of the “punctum” might need some unpacking.
Barthes thought that while a photograph had a universal meaning or a universal recognition, there is also, in any given photograph, something that has an individual appeal. This is the “punctum,” which has similar roots to “puncture,” – because the photograph will elicit unique and ultra-personal meanings in the viewer. Hus Nelly chooses the moment when she is looking at photographs with Alaida to confess her love for Alaida, because her recognition of the punctum, which could only be her punctum, is absolutely an expression of specific, unique, and reciprocated love. These photographs have specific meaning and emotional resonance with Nelly, and looking at Alaida’s photographs is what brings her to this conclusion.
The play uses at its outset, interwoven with the plot, and at the end the younger versions of the protagonists in opposition to and contrast with their older selves. In its interwoven adventure in middle school to Coney Island, all the way from the Bronx using the F train. The play acknowledges the hardship of growing up in the projects of the Bronx by closing the adult narratives with a crisis of a fire in the projects, where all of the characters live in the present day., This is not unheard of, and in fact there was a large-scale power outage in the projects of East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn on July 31, 2018 28thth weekend. This play – correctly – trivializes the material problems of poverty in the projects by offering the triumphs of the LGBTQ political and social movements. This play is right to say love conquers the problems of poverty for the same reasons Teiresias explains to Oedipus, that happiness is not the absence of problems, but rather the ability to cope with one’s problems and d that love is exactly the strength and courage one needs in times of crisis.
This play has roots with painter Kerry James Marshall and playwright Jimenez. Marshall laments the problems of racial disparities in the United States, and nevertheless declares the humanizing power of love. Jiminez, in his, “Oye! For my Dear Brooklyn!” which the playwright performed earlier this year at the Abrons Art Center, likewise found solace in the social extension of love in its manifold forms, as redemptive of the problems of poverty in Brooklyn.
For these reasons and more “Desarollo” is an excellent play. The actors courageously argue that the power of love triumph over the problems of cowardice and poverty. “Desarollo” is an excellent play, expertly executed by Juliany Taveras and Manny Rivera, and it is not to be missed!