Elizabeth Irwin’s play, My Mañana Comes, now being given a vigorously good West Coast premiere at San Diego REPertory Theatre, likes to wear its heart on its sleeve. Until it doesn’t. And, therein lies the rub.
In the back end of a posh Madison Avenue restaurant a group of four secondary servers (often called “busboys,” a demeaning name if there ever was one) has melded itself into a swift and cohesive unit. They carefully watch the house to see if they are needed, and then swoop in to fulfill the need. They precisely choreograph their movements so that food moves quickly from kitchen to patron. They take care of “side work,” the chores that have to be done to keep things running, almost gleefully.
Their leader and firecracker-in-chief is Peter (Edred Utomi), a man with a young family who knows as much or more about managing a restaurant than the management (and, he’s happy to tell you about it, too). Peter is so energetic that he literally leaps over the prep table in a single bound (one of a whole bunch of great choreographic art by director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg).
His compatriots aren’t quite up to Peter’s level, but they make for fine teammates. There’s Whalid (Spencer Smith), who, despite his name, is U. S. born to Mexican parents, with whom he lives while striving to pass an EMT exam and move on to higher paying, more secure, work. There’s Jorge (Jorge E. Rodriguez), who has a wife and children in Mexico, and who lives a severe life so that he can send money not only to support his family but to build a house to which he plans to return and live a king’s life. And, there’s Pepe (José Martinez), young, handsome, who comes from the drug-running city of Juarez, has only a brother to help, and who seems smitten with big-city life, especially with chatting up women in clubs.
Things wear reasonably until a crisis hits and then they seem to come to a grinding halt. And, unfortunately, so does the play.
Life goes swimmingly for this quality quartet while the restaurant is hopping, the tips are popping, and everyone’s dreams can bloom. But then, Memorial Day hits, many of the regular patrons decamp to the Hamptons for the summer, and business suddenly slows. Peter, of course, knew it was coming, made sure that his team knew, too, and worked with them to counteract its effects. And, for a good while, it works and everyone stays cheerful and committed. As the summer trudges by, though, the work starts to trudge as well. It’s not helped by a coffee maker that needs to have its electric outlet jiggled to work, or the new manager who doesn’t play by the rules that Peter knows work best.
Things wear reasonably until a crisis hits and then they seem to come to a grinding halt. And, unfortunately, so does the play. What was lively, enjoyable, and oh, so, true-to-life starts to drag. The drag is true to life, as well, but it lets the air out of the great dynamic the actors have worked so hard to achieve. It’s not their fault that the play fails them, and the play fails in ways that are all too pernicious (and common). But, it leaves no choice than to limp to the end, accept the grateful applause from the audience for what was achieved, and wish that the energy level could have been sustained to the end.
Ms. Sonnenberg is truly one of San Diego’s theatrical treasures, and she’s especially good at drawing complex, engaging and realistic performances from her actors. Her magic here is even more potent than usual, and each actor has a clear through-line to play (as well as split-second stage movement to execute). Brian Redfern’s scenic design is a marvel of having a place for everything and everything in its place. An open ceiling allows Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting design opportunities for subtlety that would have been lost otherwise. Anastasia Pautova’s costume design helps distinguish between work life and personal life. And, there was apparently amplification of the actors’ voices (they were wearing microphones), but Kevin Anthenill’s sound design never called attention to itself.
Some of the dialogue is in Spanish (mine is basic, but I followed it reasonably). There’s a primer on words you’ll hear in the program. I’d read that before the show begins, but I’d skip the other essays until after you’ve seen the show.
Bold in its ordinariness, My Mañana Comes may ultimately falter, but it provides plenty of pleasure until then.