nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 21, 2010
Masks, co-written and performed by Terryl Daluz and Mann Alfonso, feels like a sociological study of two people who happened to be born to hopelessly dysfunctional families. It is not surprising, then, that, as teenagers, their two characters land in foster homes, group homes, juvenile detention, and ultimately jail. The point is made: once a teen enters the juvenile system it is nearly impossible to get out. There is substantial grist in this mill for interesting storytelling. With their authentic dialogue and sincere performances, Daluz and Alfonso make convincing arguments for the strong friendship between two appealing characters.
In this two-hander, Jason, an angry black teen, meets T.G., a naive Puerto Rican, in a group home where they share a room. T.G. discovers music and he plays it at a shattering decibel. That and his humor serve as life rafts for survival. Jason, who penned his first poem when he was 12, wants to be a writer. He shares his poetry with T.G., adding to his vulnerability. The two form a convincing bond that is tighter than the families that failed them. Whenever they are apart, they keep in touch through heartfelt letters that show increasing openness—a trait previously impossible for them. At one point Jason tells T.G., "You're the best thing that ever happened to me. You make me laugh!" We are watching the painful process of healing.
There are a few brief flashbacks to show how they got to this point—shameful, irresponsible fathers, the early death of a mother—but mostly the characters move forward in linear fashion, gaining confidence and then falling back into old habits: T.G.'s addictions and Jason's rash and destructive behavior. The boys face an uphill battle that requires a lifetime of patience and perseverance. The struggle is heart-wrenching since both characters have the desire to do something worthwhile with their lives. T.G. earns his G.E.D., mixes tapes, and successfully spins at clubs; Jason's social worker brings his poetry to the attention of a local newspaper, and he begins writing a book.
The play, written in two acts and 22 episodic scenes, covers 29 years. It delivers the frustration of recidivism and the power of early abuses. For T.G., it is an abusive father. For Jason, it is a drugged dad who allowed him to be taken to a foster home—beginning his sentence in "the system." Jason's mother and girlfriend play strong positive influences. None of these characters actually appears in the play, but they are strongly felt. In spite of all these strengths, Masks remains a familiar recipe without the added zest that would make it an entirely fresh offering. Still, the audience in this sold-out performance, by and large, appeared to like it.