Updated: Mar 20, 2019
★★★★☆ - Delicious
Subtenant is about a father who, long estranged from his recently deceased son, arrives to collect his lad’s belongings and discovers a laptop, roommates and things he never knew about the young man. Connections and “disconnections” to family, the denial of who they are when they act in ways that we don’t want them to, and the regret for not having a chance at reconciliation are at the heart of this insightful and humorous contemporary drama.
The play begins with lights up on the non-physical space of the Internet. Sasha (a female in her mid-20s) voices her instant messages… "It’s a really intense thing you’re doing. it’s a big deal. and i need to tell you that i don’t think you should be alone in this. it’s time you talk to more people... your doctors, for one. have you talked to your family??? I know you say you feel better, but this is a really serious thing, a big decision, right? and I’m worried I’m not the right person to help you. I don’t know how to respond to all of this. Voice of “The Computer”"…Matthew is offline and may not have received your chat." (Lights fade to black.)
Full lights then come up on a somewhat shabby apartment; two small, separate bedrooms sharing a common wall (invisibly set center stage), and a hallway (upstage). One, messy and obviously “lived in”, with an unmade double bed and female clothing strewn about; the other, sparse with a well-made single bed, an open cardboard box, and a laptop on the desk.
Sasha sits on her bed and opens her laptop. She types, but the computer emits a login error sound. The doorbell rings and she moves offstage to the apartment’s front door. She ushers Rick into the other bedroom. Their delicate and dramatic tango begins!
Rick (retired and in his late 60s-early 70s) is weary and disheveled after a long plane ride, but begins grilling young Sasha about his son, Matt, her roommate of barely three months. We quickly sense the uneasiness of these main characters, involuntarily thrust into an initial meeting under regrettable circumstances.
Together, these two main characters — along with “The Computer” (ageless; operating with equanimity; reveling in withholding information) — soon form an improbable household. Both people wish they knew more about the departed roommate and son that brought them together—though Sasha may not be telling Rick everything she knows about the young man’s last days.
Rick continues to attack the laptop keyboard, believing that he might truly come to know his son if he can only get access to his connections across the virtual community. Frustrated by the legal jargon spewed by “The Computer” in response, Rick’s frustration boils over: “Privacy? You post your whole, entire lives online for gigantic, multinational corporations and the God-damn NSA to see, but when it comes to the people who raised you, the people who love you most… Oh, no! Suddenly, you deserve privacy.”
The playwright effectively focuses on the human side of this timely and significant issue through his leading characters, skillfully and believably portrayed by Douglas H. Baker and Alexa Josey. Though their initial introduction is awkward, they both transition comfortably and credibly into short-term roommates, eventually sharing a fun evening together over drinks and karaoke – concluding their duet of “After You’re Gone” in a warm, father-daughter embrace. These talented actors share a full range of human emotions and rhythms between them over the course of their newfound relationship.
(It’s especially worth noting that Douglas H. Baker joined the company with only a week to prepare, when the actor originally cast in the role left due to illness.)
The acting ensemble is rounded out by Julet Lindo (skillfully embodying the emotionally withholding “Computer” that comes to life before Rick’s grief-weary eyes), and Ace Charles (convincing as Graham, the passing roommate and lover), Matthew Kuri (with a nicely portrayed third roommate “Jared”), and Hafid Acosta Gomez (thoughtfully delivering a touching monologue as “Nico,” an unfulfilled “connection”).
Sarah O’Connell, producer and director, scenic and sound designer of the production, has given the enquiry real momentum that supports and reinforces the tension for the audience throughout the evening. Her casting reflects the ethnically diverse milieu of urban young people (as suggested by the playwright). Action, set design, lighting and sound respectively reinforce the ongoing battle against loneliness and longing. Bustling, real-life interactions (in Sasha’s bedroom) are juxtaposed with the guilt-ridden scrutiny and continuing attempts for the slightest virtual interface between Rick and “The Computer” (in his son’s bedroom) -- accentuating the unresponsiveness of the ever-present “virtual reality” entrapped in the inanimate laptop… always in view.
An approving opening night audience enjoyed this delicious, Four Star production, and was left to consider how their own family interactions might be impacted by today’s ever-growing social media opportunities.
What: SUBTENANT by Daniel Hirsch, World Premiere
Presented by: The Asylum Theatre [Info: (702) 604-3417]
When: June 17-July 3; Thurs-Fri @ 8pm, Sun @ 2pm (No performance on 7/1)
Where: Art Square Theatre, 1025 South First Street, Las Vegas, NV 89101
Tickets $18 - $22 / www.asylumtheatre.org
Grade: Four stars / Delicious