nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
August 9, 2008
Everyday, a paranoid schizophrenic, an egg sandwich salesman, an EMT, and a mute gypsy accordionist sit around Port Authority. They are the residents of their own country, named Port Authoritas. Though perhaps a little dirty, a little crazy, and a little crooked, they are nonetheless a loving family of misfits. With time, they are joined by a washed-up journalist who never outgrew the '70s. The journalist wants to write an article about Zaida, the mysterious accordionist. Egg Sandwich wants to buy a real cart to sell his wares from. Roche the EMT wants to get an illegal birth certificate for his immigrant wife. And they all want, more or less, to be around one another.
The ensemble of Pawnshop Accordions is very, very strong. Brian D. Coats gives a heartbreaking performance as Godlyman, the schizophrenic who sees God get on the bus everyday and knows the devil is always present. Gina Samardge, who plays Zaida, appears not to be acting, but to be possessed. If I were told that Samardge actually was a haunted homeless woman, I would completely believe it. Shpend Xani, David Tawil, and Tim Cain complete the group of Port Authority regulars. Every one of these characters is complex, disturbed, and excellently portrayed. There's also an evil detective named Develin, but the part isn't fleshed out enough to make us understand why he's so despicable.
Pawnshop Accordions is a new play, and writer Jonathan Wallace has done an excellent job in giving each character a unique voice and some very interesting, unusual material to work with (from Godlyman's repetitive rants, warnings, and off-the-wall comments to Egg Sandwich's confessions of his disturbing past in the Albanian Special Forces). Director Aaron Gonzalez has created a very rich, lively world with only a few folding chairs and a makeshift cart. Most of the action takes place in this area outside Port Authority, with the exception of a dream sequence for each of the main characters. These dreams sometimes give us a new light into the souls of these people (Zaida's particularly), but at other points feel like they are done for the benefit of the audience, rather than what the character would actually be dreaming (as for Roche).
Pawnshop Accordions is not a perfect play, but it is a very good one. This play has a lot of potential, a terrific cast, and, most significantly, heart and humanity.