On the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend, four of us collected ourselves to see the Marin Theater Company’s presentation of Elizabeth Irwin’s My Mañana Comes.  We came away enthusiastic, too. Four young men, two illegally across the southern border, one recently, a New Yorquino of Puerto Rican roots, and an African-American, father of one, make up the entire cast. Scenes take place in rapid fire order on the same set, marked by quick black-outs.  Peter (Sahun Patrick Tubbs,) Jorge (Eric Aviles,) Whalid (Caleb Cabrera) and Pepe (Carlos Jose Gonzalez Morales) rush on-stage and off, carrying plates, lugging buckets of ice, folding napkins, setting out supplies, all the while quipping and mansulting, as men often do, and laying out the crossing issues of their lives.

Theater My Manana Comes

The big issue is, of course, pay: not enough, not on time and, the crucial point, will “shift pay” be honored; that is, if customers are few and staff can go home, will they be paid for the shift, or only the hours worked?  Shift rotation is a constant thorn: promises are made to pick a child up at school and the new week schedule comes out; pick-up time is now work time. The humanity-long difference over money-in-the-hand grows explosive: do you choke every dollar sacrificing today for tomorrow, or do you spend today because tomorrow may not come, or may come with another pocket-full of coins. And, thrumming darkly in the center of it all, as the playwright, Elizabeth Irwin puts it:

“I was inspired to write this play to put the question of what a political issue like undocumented immigration actually means to people who are directly affected by it….”

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any theatrical production, filmed or live, about ordinary working stiffs and their daily lives.  No murder here, no prostitute with a heart of gold, no child dying of cancer — just ordinary, everyday, decisions: can I make enough to live on? Can relationships in a small space be negotiated? How high do I go when the man says jump?

The language used is a wonderful, modern, quasi-bilingualism in Mexican Spanish, New York slang and bro’ talk, fitting together, on the whole, extremely well.  A few passages of extended Spanish, with no subsequent English fill-in, left a few viewers in the dark – though the emotional charge was not missed. With four guys on the stage, cranked up in a busy restaurant, vocal projection was not a problem, though there were a few times it could have been amped down, loudness and throatiness disturbing the sense of things.  Both writer Irwin and director Kirsten Brandt have an ear for guy talk, letting the four jab and pepper with jokes, feints and finally some hard blows.  Very well done.

All four of the actors turn in lively and creditable performances. Sean Patrick Tubbs (Peter) is the most experienced in the kitchen and on the stage and as such may stick in our memories longer.  Caleb Cabrera as Whalid, the New Yorker, has a good share of the comic lines to go along with his physical presence, tall, thin and a bit awkward.  The two illegals, Eric Aviles (Jorge)and Carlos Jose Gonzales Morales (Pepe) give a great picture of the new arrival, Pepe, with his anxious-to-please, delirious about any wage at all, versus the long-time resident (Jorge,) self-assured, knowing the ropes and hell-bent to make his final payments on a little “casita” back in Mexico.

Not only is the play itself contemporary and vitally interesting, the theater has put up in the lobby large paste-board facts and phrases about the restaurant business, migrant labor and other extensions of what we have seen.  Bravo to this, and I must say, many years away from my own experience of organizing with a population somewhat like that in the kitchen, it was great to hear the word Huelga tossed around as the climactic ending began to gather steam.  Huelga! Strike!  We’ve got to do it all together or we’ll all go down apart.

The play made its debut in Chicago, August of 2004 and has had productions in New York, San Diego, Seattle and elsewhere.  The Marin Theater production has only 7 more performances, currently scheduled to close after the Sunday, November 22 performance.

If you miss it, keep your eyes open.  I’d bet that other Bay Area and beyond theaters see this as a crowd pleasing and relevant offering.