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OmniRootz Exits Albuquerque After
Train Wrecked at North Fourth

Train Wrecked
Virginia Hampton and
Bineshi Albert

Albuquerque-based OmniRootz is presenting its "end of the line show" Train Wrecked (a memoir) by Michelle Gabow. Since 1994, OmniRootz has been challenging the arts community with creative work from the edge, especially social, political and cultural edges with characters whom the dominant culture judges marginal, if they see them at all. OmniRootz previously performed more than twenty plays by significant socially conscious playwrights such as Brecht, Dario Fo, and Lorraine Hansberry at a multicultural center called Outchonda funded only by donations. The group honors ancestors racially and culturally from Africa and around the world, including the native peoples of the land now called New Mexico.

Production co-sponsor VSA North Fourth Theatre, a state-of-the-art, fully accessible 4,000-square-foot black box theater, serves as a community arts, culture and education resource. Since 1981, North Fourth Art Center, an independent non-profit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., has been bringing socially relevant visual and performing arts to Albuquerque providing arts education and exhibition opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities. VSA, which grew from a 1974 national Arts for the Handicapped program, stands for Very Special Arts, although only the initials are currently used for programs in 42 states with 7 million participants annually.

For three decades, feminist playwright Michelle Gabow, who teaches script writing at Curry College in Boston, has been writing and producing avant-garde plays examining women's relationships with themselves, one another, and the patriarchal world that constrains them. She says that her plays explore "edges between theatre and performance and the fusion of dialogue, poetry and movement." Her memoir as drama fits the missions of both OmniRootz and North Fourth Theatre and Arts Center.

In a surrealistic no-exit drama, five passengers and a stationmaster wait for a train that never arrives. About midway in the endlessly deferred delay, a waiting woman (Waiting for Godot?) asks another, "How long have you been here?" The other responds, "Do you mean this city, this planet, or this train station?"

The play is "a chaotic meditation on disconnection, connection, and accidents of faith." Director Stephanie Willis says, "Working on this final OmniRootz production has been a spiritual, emotional ... journey." She told me that they chose this script for their finale production because the racially diverse past performers could all come onstage. They were invited to meditate on their own personal and cultural connections with trains; thus a woman with a yellow Star of David, a son of a Pullman porter, a descendent of a family in the Mexican Revolution and others play the multi-generational zombie-like searchers in diverse costumes.

The title train wreck occurs in the train station itself. Lights flash strobe-like, newspapers fly around. Dozens of people wander through the performance space in deadpan white face lurching, falling, rising as from nightmares to search amidst the wreckage for the meaning of life or God or someone or something but fail to connect.

Train Wrecked features a cross section of people waiting for a train. The passionate multi-racial cast performs six speaking roles. Cherish Henson plays Connie as the smugly efficient stationmaster who clicks sharply around the open performing space in her neat uniform, hat and bright red high heels (suggesting Dorothy's ruby slippers that can waft her from Oz back home). But in the wreck Connie loses her uniform and shoes to the lone male passenger with a speaking role.

An obsessed lawyer called Exit Man is perpetually trying to reach his office and secretary Mary and being cut off, symbolic of the missed connections for all in the allegory of life. Shrayas Jatkar plays the Man as an impatient, self-important elitist oblivious to the chaos swirling around him. In the wreck he loses a shoe, a symbol of his status. Connie gives him one of her red heels, and they both hobble around until he loses his business suit, which is laid out on a bench like a body waiting to be identified. He wanders around in his underwear until he gradually appears in Connie's full uniform with skirt, and she is left stripped to her slip.

Ashley Moyer plays Max the poet, who seems to live in the train station as its soul. She spouts beat poetry reminiscent of Allan Ginsburg as requested by other characters. She and Connie have a bond of care for each other from the opening in which Max asks Connie if she's all right. In the final moments they ask again, Max still with her poetry and Connie now only in her slip, divested of her previous status. They exit together arm in arm as happy as Thelma and Louise.

With warmth and compassion Chava plays True Tannenbaum, a bag lady who carries her heap of belongings in a shopping cart. Over and over she asks Connie, "About my daughter ... ?" The daughter is arriving on the train that never comes. She mumbles garbled Sabbath prayers in Hebrew mixed with Frank Sinatra lyrics and reminds anyone who will listen not to forget the death camps. With a calm acceptance of the inevitable, she makes it clear that they are all waiting for the last train, the death train.

Virginia Hampton plays Sylvie Sinclaire, an older woman costumed in a brilliant turquoise hat, jacket and skirt, with vibrancy and wit. With no self pity or resistance she awaits her last train with eagerness and befriends the Lady in White, played elegantly by Bineshi Albert. Ironically, Sylvie tells the smoking and stoned Lady that she's pure as the driven snow. Their bond gives each solace in their train wrecked chaos of disconnection.

DJ JimiB provides "echoes of sound," as the program states. A live dissonant cello punctuates the drama's shifting desires and desperation. Ensemble performers and crew bring OmniRootz to its finale with chaotic fanfare. Albuquerque will not be able to replicate their passionate irreverence and iconoclasm.

Train Wrecked (a memoir), written by Michelle Gabow and directed by Stephanie Willis, co-produced by OmniRootz and VSA North Fourth Art Center, runs through May 30, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00PM, Sundays at 2:00PM: $12 general admission; $8 students and seniors. For information/reservations call 505-344-4542.


Photo: Minie Gonzales

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Albuquerque area

-- Rosemary Keefe



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