Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ

There are seven performers in Ping Chong and Company’s play Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ They talk about their actual lives - what’s happened in the past - in the present tense, and what they talk about is the substance of growing up disadvantaged in New York City. When one is asked “What would you tell your younger self?” the reply is “Be patient.” And when another is asked “What would you say to other kids like you?” the answer is “You were put here for a reason.” What an enormous encouragement it must be to young people, to hear that from these articulate performers - aged 18 to 22 - whom we grow to like so quickly!

The performers - four actresses and three actors - tell us their stories both individually and communally - that is, they rotate among themselves speaking bits of their narratives, but it’s all in chronological order. We experience them growing up together although they grew up separately. It’s like hearing from a generation.
Some are ethnic minority, some gender minority; all have been out of suits with fortune.

The script is written by Sara Katz and Kirya Traber. They’ve chosen significant details from the seven first person narratives and woven them together. The marvelous result is a sort of tapestry in seven colors, intimate but never intrusive. “Are you a boy or are you a girl?” one of them is asked. Later, another groans “We’re moving again,” speaking of his family.

As always in auto-biographical narratives, the best moments are the ones with irony, when the speakers comment in tone on what they’re saying in words. In fact, there are moments when the cast speaks in unison phrases like “strong Puerto-Rican woman” and “without papers”.

These raconteurs speak for all of us. “I start feeling really bad and I can’t understand why,” one man tells us. When he speaks about his depression at his high school, another student tells him “I feel that way too.”

Happily, each of our friends overcomes adversity reaches hope - if not yet fulfillment - via a different avenue. One joins the FBI, another works in the theater. “I spent too much time being unhappy. Now I want to pursue happiness,” a woman tells us.

I’m not sure The New Victory Theater is the best venue for the show. It’s more suited for a more intimate setting, or a setting - like a school auditorium - that’s not special, not separated from teens’ daily lives. The audience at the performance I attended were well beyond their teen years. But Undesirable Elements is unpretentious, vital theater.

Steve Capra
January 2018

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