Busboys dream of a better life in Elizabeth Irwin’s slice-of-life play “My Mañana Comes” at ArtsWest Playhouse through Nov. 22.
The four men depicted in Elizabeth Irwin’s working-stiff drama “My Mañana Comes” are never idle. They do a lot of amiable trash-talking, and gabbing about their future plans. But as busboys in an upscale Manhattan restaurant, their hands are always busy — folding cloth napkins, filling water pitchers, scraping food off plates. So are their legs, as they race from dining room to kitchen, kitchen to storeroom during the lunch rush.
This grunt work pays little, but it’s a steady job they take some pride in. And as much as Whalid, Jorge, Pepe and Peter fantasize about a better life on the horizon, their immediate alternatives are few, or nada.
Staged at a clip at ArtsWest Playhouse by Mathew Wright, on Burton Yuen’s marvel of a set (a gleaming, well-equipped restaurant kitchen), “My Mañana Comes” is a timely snapshot of the American working poor.
‘My Mañana Comes’
by Elizabeth Irwin. Through Nov. 22 at ArtsWest Playhouse, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, WA; $17-$37.50 (206-938-0339; artswest.org).
Yet theatrically it is also a throwback, and not an unwelcome one, to the working-stiff proletarian dramas of the 1930s, and the radical naturalism of such later plays as Arnold Wesker’s “The Kitchen.”
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At ArtsWest, Irwin’s broadside is slow to fire but later compelling, and staffed with a very invested, multiethnic cast. A good chunk of their dialogue is in Spanish: three of the characters are Latino.
ArtsWest is providing no projected titles or other form of translation, which is a drag at times for non-Spanish-speaking patrons. It would help if, especially at the beginning, the actors would enunciate better (in both languages), and otherwise express themselves more clearly.
Yet the ensemble gains cohesiveness and clarity as the play goes along. And in the end of the episodic, 90-minute production, you know enough to understand, and lament, just how rigged the system is against the characters.
As they squabble over the best shifts and brag about off-hours exploits, these men are avidly looking for a rosier “mañana” (tomorrow). The kitchen clown, Puerto Rican runner Whalid (Joshua Chessin-Yudin), wants to be “a professional,” somehow. And he drops his cocky antics to touchingly imagine having his own apartment, where he’d serve dinner to his parents instead of to the urban well-to-do. (Given the cost of living in New York, that ambition looks like a longshot.)
Upbeat, innocent Pepe (the sweet-faced Chris Rodriguez) is an undocumented worker, fresh from Mexico and blowing his meager pay on American goodies, like Nikes. He’s eager to bring his brother north, but can’t afford to both spend and save.
By contrast, his countryman Jorge (Santino Garcia) has worked diligently and lived like a pauper under the radar for years. He shares a sardine-can apartment with other undocumented immigrants, survives on stale kitchen leftovers and hoards every cent possible to build his family a home in Mexico.
The natural leader of the group is Peter (Tyler Trerise, who grows with each new role). A young husband and dad, he’s an alert striver eager to rise in the restaurant racket. But he’s bogged down by living paycheck to paycheck. Throwing out hard numbers, Irwin illustrates how dire the loss of free baby-sitting or getting a $100 ticket can be to a low-wage earner.
As their bosses casually decide to cut off their daily shift pay, the workers become blatant victims of divide-and-conquer economics, and the flagrant exploitation of immigrants.
Will they respond with a strike? Soldier on? Act in solidarity, or opposition to one another?
That choice beefs up the play’s dramatic tension, leading to a quietly shattering conclusion. And if you didn’t know what tips and minimum wage mean to “menial” workers who fill your water glass, well…. now you know.