I Want You By My Side
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 23, 2010
Tere Martinez's play I Want You By My Side is a smart and engaging drama about a young woman facing a potentially catastrophic situation. Its target audience is clearly high school- and college-age young people, and I'd argue that anyone under 25 ought to see this piece and really listen to and absorb its messages. A tour of local schools and colleges, or a presentation at an institutional theatre like New Victory targeted at teens, would be a great service to the artists and the community.
The play, which is directed with feeling and economy by Arian Blanco, introduces us to three friends. Lauren is a college freshman majoring in psychology; Andy, not as serious as Lauren, is in love with her, though she doesn't realize it; and Lilly, confidante to both, is struggling with her own relationship with a young man of Middle Eastern descent. Lauren is the one with the grown-up problem at the moment; she has recently discovered that her brainy boyfriend Brandon is HIV+ and because they had sex she is now at risk herself. The main arc of the play follows Lauren as she awaits the results of her HIV test, and also as she reveals her circumstance to her friends and they react and attempt to help her deal with it, even as they are struggling to manage their own fragile relationships.
Martinez eschews almost every after-school-special cliche even while adhering to the basic formula of a kid-in-trouble drama. Her characters are smart but flawed, which makes them feel very authentic; they're easy to like and to root for, and at the same time, they're also very easy to identify with because they seem so real.
Most of the scenes play out in two- or three-way conversations, while some, ingeniously, are spoken depictions of text messages being sent back and forth among the three. Blanco stages this part of the play engagingly; it is the first time I've seen on stage dialogue comprised entirely of text messages (including emoticons :-). There are also segments of the play when we hear the characters' individual thoughts, spoken in counterpoint; I love the range of issues and concerns, both trivial and fundamental, that are given voice. It's a complicated, dangerous world that these young people have to grow into; it's to the play's credit that AIDS, which can feel so '90s nowadays, is presented with its true deadly face here.
The three young actors performing the piece all do fine work: Miriam Morales is a low-key but good-humored BFF type as Lilly, while Anita Kalathara is appropriately brooding and moody as Lauren. It is Howard Collado who steals the show, though, with his highly likable high-energy portrayal of Andy, a young man trying to juggle the responsibilities that lie ahead of him with a completely understandable desire to stay a kid as long as possible.
I Want You By My Side, which is performed in English (and which doesn't specify the ethnicities of any of its characters, though all are played by Latino actors here), is presented as part of TeatroStageFest. I hope other producers will grab onto this earnest and important drama and help Martinez and Blanco spread its message among young people throughout the NYC area.