Nathan Yungerberg’s play about finding your identity in a foreign land charms audiences.
American expat Karen, who fled the United States at the tender age of sixteen, now prides herself in her ability to assimilate into the Brazilian culture. Running a hostel in Salvador along with her flamboyantly gay husband Tobias puts her in the prime position to welcome fellow foreigners to her beloved country--or to drive them out if she deems them unworthy. But when a mysterious young American named Ben comes to stay at Pousada Azul, Karen meets her match in a man who seems as lost as she is herself.
This is Pousada Azul, a clever and entertaining new play by Nathan Yungerberg about building a life for yourself, only to discover ten years later that it no longer fits. Set in a hostel, with a ready supply of dish ware on serving trays and carefully selected furniture that almost matches, this three-actor piece occupies a permanent state of transience.
Each character is fleeing something, searching for a source of fulfillment they don't fully understand. But somehow, they all find it at Pousada Azul. Each of them is also alienating in their own way, whether it's Tobias' overt drag queen attitude or Ben's reticence to explain what he is doing in Brazil, as they all hide what they fled the US for. As the three learn to trust each other, then, the secrets come out, and we begin to realize just how hard it is to find a place to call home.
A Collision of Cultures
Produced by Horse Trade Theater Group, Pousada Azul is part of The Fire This Time Festival, which seeks to give early-career African and African American playwrights a platform to explore new voices and stories. And while blackness is not an overt part of this story, that identity is crucial for understanding Karen, Tobias and Ben, who have all fled to the region with the world's largest black population outside of Nigeria. Each of their experiences, from ballerina to boxer to chef, is colored by the experiences they had growing up as African American.
One of the most impressive features of this play is its intricate dialect work, each character's speech showing traces of every place they have been. Ben's accent strays between Harlem and Parisian, while Karen's Midwestern twang sneaks out whenever she wants to sound particularly American. As these three people clearly prove, the places you have lived never really leave you.
Finding Your Way to Home
If the plot seems a little aimless, then that is fitting for a play about coming to terms with your own aimlessness, hiding away from the real world. Instead, Pousada Azul is composed of particular entertaining or profound moments, from the drag queen dance party to a 5am pancake dinner cooked by a celebrity chef. As we learn each individual's story, their journey as a unit begins to come together.
Tanya Everett as Karen is intense and alluring, with a hatred of tourists that will make any New Yorker smile. Keldrick Crowder's hilarious, fabulous Tobias is the perfect foil for his determined wife, and their companionate marriage is one of the sweetest and most engaging parts of the play. Frank Mayer as their guest Ben takes a while to warm to, but once you understand why, it will make you appreciate the character even more.
Pousada Azul is a play about 40-year-olds, but that certainly doesn't mean it has to be a boring family or office drama. Instead, it is a story about the soul, about clashes in personality and finding one's home, and if that happens to come along with a few too many monologues directed at Bahia, the state they have all fled to, it is all part of the culture that they have fallen for.
Horse Trade and The Fire This Time Festival have presented a story that needs to be told, and that does so in a beautiful and entertaining way. It is culturally specific African American theater that nonetheless can appeal to a far wider audience, and everyone can learn something from it. Come visit Pousada Azul, and it will certainly not disappoint.
Pousada Azul plays at the Kraine Theater through February 8.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.