NY Theater Now- Martin Denton
NSA, the new play by Manuel Igrejas, is a smart, adult, bittersweet look at three men who find themselves entangled in an off-kilter love triangle. It’s a worthy successor to Hassan and Sylvia, Manny’s award-winning 2010 play, which traded in similar themes on the complex web of compromise, integrity, and sex. As I write this, there is one more performance left of NSA at the Left Out Festival at Stage Left Studio; I highly recommend it. And I wish the play a full, long life after the festival.
The title is an acronym for “No Strings Attached” (not the National Security Agency); it’s an apt choice for this play, which deals in relationships with varying levels of ties that bind. Monty and Luis have been a couple for ten years, and seem to be soul mates in spite of differences in their backgrounds, ages, and ambitions. Monty wants to marry and Luis does not, but that’s not the central problem in this play.
Rather, the catalyst for all that happens is a cater-waiter they encounter at a gallery opening in Chelsea. I don’t want to give away much about this handsome young man, but both men recognize him (although in different contexts). Both end up becoming acquainted with him, and his impact on their lives rocks their relationship to its very foundation. And everything that occurs pivots on the entwined ideas of how much skin we’re willing to put in the game in terms of relationships with one another; and how willing and able we are to separate love from lust, sex from intimacy, and romance from transaction.
Manny has written three highly individual, richly fleshed-out characters here, all brought to life by the actors in this premiere production. Casey Burden, who was in Hassan and Sylvia, plays the grounded, good-natured Monty; Afrim Gjonbalaj is more conflicted as his partner, Luis; and Kevin Perez is splendidly ambivalent and enigmatic as the young man who is the third point of the triangle. This production is directed, vividly but in bare bones style suitable to the festival environment, by Robert Teague.
What I like most about the play is that its characters do dumb and/or risky things and don’t get let off the hook by each other or their playwright. And they adhere to moral codes that arise from their very different personalities and histories, In short, they behave like real people rather than constructs or archetypes, and it’s a real privilege to spend time with them in the theater, indulging along with them in their fantasies and foibles. We care for them when our time with them is over."