Theater for the New City, Manhattan

By Andrew Andrews

Dario (Joe Maruzzo) bonds with Wink (Joshua De Jesus) on the sofa of his Hollywood home, in Theater for the New City’s newest play, Wink.

Image you’re a washed-up star in Hollywood, with an addiction that interferes with your need to make a comeback before the money runs out. And imagine you find the dead body of a gender-questioning teenager floating in your swimming pool. And imagine, to top it all off, that the teenager you never even knew left a suicide note under your pillow. What do you imagine you would do?

That’s the premise of Wink, which we managed to catch at Theater for the New City on opening night. TftNC has been a fixture of the East Village for almost as long as the East Village has had its own name, and may be best known for hosting the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts every Memorial Day weekend for the past two decades, during which they offer non-stop free programming in their theaters and a street fair with food and live entertainment on East 10th Street. The rest of the year, the TftNC schedule features a handful of productions at any given time, such as Wink, with a mission to make innovative and experimental theater truly accessible to the entire community.

Let’s get back to the story. Wink, the title character, is another “gender liberated” person about the same age as the recently-deceased. Thanks to the complexity of Joshua De Jesus’ portrayal, Wink convincingly walks the fiber-thin line between “a little slow” and wise beyond his age; a rambling persona that refuses to be pinned down as anything other than human. Joe Maruzzo’s long-forgotten actor, Dario, is everything you expect from a has-been: a man simultaneously too grand for his own good and too low for his own ego. As his long-time agent, Peter, Joe Isenberg is the quintessential douchebag, unable to reconcile his black-and-white theories with reality’s shades of gray. Nikole Williams is their strong-yet-feminine publicist Valerie, a woman who knows the right card to play at the right time. And as Manuel, Wink’s social worker whom Peter coincidentally bullied back in high school, Jose Joaquin Perez displays all the confidence of a lap dog who trusts that his strong bulldog buddy, The System, now has his back.

So if you were Dario, and you came across the opportunity to help one kid after you were too late to help another, what would you do? Thanks to the cast’s perfect portrayals, this plot’s progression will almost certainly ring true. But although this story might not be earth-shattering, it’s the kind of tale about the human condition that draws you in with empathy, hoping all evening that in the end, everything will turn out all right. Because no matter your identity, isn’t that what everybody really wants?

Photo by Rick Stockwell.

Andrew Andrews attended Wink at Theater for the New City in Manhattan on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 @ 8:00pm to write this review.