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The Immigrants' Theatre Project
by Paulanne Simmons

"Snow," by Pat Kaufman, direct by Lisa Brailoff - June 6
"Sajjil" ("To Record") presented by Nibras - June 13
"How I Wore Out My 50 Pairs of Silk Stockings" by Ella-Veres, directed by Mary Arlin - June 20
"The 'N' Word" written and directed by Alvin Eng - June 27
"Criminal: A Short Tragedy about a Counter-transferential Transference" by Javier Daulte,
translated by Rodrigo Cameron, directed by Gwynn MacDonald - July 18

"Queen Latina" by Mixed Company - July 11
"New Works" by SALAAM! curated by Geeta Citygirl - July 25
"First Language" by Novid Parsi, directed by Nabil Ben Ghachem - August 1

Tenement Theatre
97 Orchard Street
All shows are at 8 p.m.
Admission: $6
Reservations: (212) 431--0233, ext. 440
Information (347) 512-5572

Alvin Eng

"The 'N' Word," a new play by Alvin Eng, is not about the obvious. It doesn't concern African Americans, racism or the civil rights movement. What it does deal with is the relationship between two characters, Aggressive (Aileen Cho) and Passive (Jim Cyrus), or perhaps two aspects of the same character.

The play, directed by the author, was given a reading by The Immigrants Theatre Project at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on June 27 as part of the fourth annual summer reading series, American Dreams IV: Plays abut New York & the Immigrant Experience.

Making the connection between the immigrant experience and The "N" Word takes something of a leap. But the connection is indeed there.

Passive is a self-effacing middle-aged man who tends to begin sentences with phrases like "it's only my interpretation" or "of course I could be wrong." He believes there are two kinds of people in the world, those who begin the day by reading The New York Times obituaries as a sort of affirmation of a life well lived, and those who don't.

Aggressive is a sharp-tongued young lady who spits out every line as a challenge. She keeps demanding that Passive be more intellectually and morally responsible. She believes the world is divided into two kinds of people, those who read The New York Times obituaries before going to sleep and those who don't. For Aggressive, the obituaries are a sad reminder of all that people have failed to do before dying.

The conflict between Passive and Aggressive revolves around whether or not Passive will go into a room filled with people he knew when he was associate liaison of community affairs. What the affairs were and who was in the community we never find out, although the people in the group seem to be individuals Passive has championed, scorned and used. Most of all, according to Aggressive, he has scrupulously refrained from associating them in any way with the "N" word.

As the play progresses, Eng makes reference to Beckett, Satre, the Allman Brothers, the Beatles and Allen Ginsberg, to name a few. Both Passive and Aggressive are victims of their culture, but it becomes increasingly apparent that the "N" word is mostly a metaphor for being perceived as the "other" - which may, in fact, be the ultimate immigrant experience.

Cho and Cyrus are funny and frightening as they fight and feint using words alternately as weapons and armor. The energy they create is palpable.

The Immigrants' Theatre Project creative director Marcy Arlin says she's worked with Eng several times before. His previous plays, however, deal more directly with the immigrant experience. "The Flushing Cycle" is about "the only Chinese kid in Flushing who doesn't speak Chinese," and "A Beautiful Thing" is about "a Chinese Archie Bunker." Arlin believes Eng's latest work reflects the playwright's desire to find a new identity.

As founder of The Immigrants' Theatre Project, Arlin has several goals: to present new work; to allow artists to try out new material about New York and the immigrant experience; to bring in performers and writers from different cultures; to bring in new audiences; and to look at new work with an eye to later, fuller productions.

This year, for the first time, The Immigrants' Theatre Project is collaborating with three companies - Nibras presenting "Sajjil," Mixed Company presenting "Queen Latina" and SALAAM! presenting "New Works."

"I was very interested in the multicultural nature of America and how people communicate and don't communicate…my relationship to American culture," says Arlin, a third-generation American whose grandparents and great-grandparents hail from Russia and Poland. After a moment's thought, Arlin adds, "And also, I can't stand it when people hate each other."

Future plays range from a zany game show in which the audience chooses the Latina beauty queen (Queen Latina) to a drama about a Middle-Eastern woman and her Western son struggling with love and ethnic belonging (First Language). [Simmons.]

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