Life is not pretty. It usually isn’t. We go through it romanticizing moments to create beautiful narratives that makes memories that have the glamour they lacked when they happened. This practice is even extended to how we remember places and write them in history. This way we end up with a life sometimes more worth living than if we decide to remember things as they are. But what happens to those that don’t get to escape that reality, that have to live with the ghosts of their past, what happens to them? What happens when the magic is gone and you are just left with the curse? What happens to the people that live on the fringes of society, deep in the swamp where civilization has a completely different meaning? What happens when you were born without a chance? These are the questions that arose in our heads as we were spellbound by Hilary Bettis’ vivid and chaotic play “Alligator,” produced by New Georges.
The play is about two orphans who spend their days wrestling alligators for the entertainment of a paying audience. This is how they make their living, or more importantly in the sense of the play, this is how they get to live another day. Em (Lindsay Rico) is losing herself to alcohol while Ty (Dakota Granados) is trying to keep himself together as a secret is on its way to riping him apart. Their world changes when a stranger and odd girl barge into their bubble and threatens with attention to give love to one of them. These are people that are not used to love, and now have to accept it. This is capitulated perfectly by the magical realistic aspects that gives us a glimpse into Em’s battle, and present us with the best scenes in the show — the ones between Em and their gator, Rex (Bobby Moreno).
While that story moves along and fascinates us with each beat, the audience also has to follow along with three less impressive storylines, which seem juxtaposed into the script. The tales of Danny, Merick and Diane, who live in the same town, affect Ty’s storyline. Besides Danny, the jock that comes back home to realize things are not the same, the others contribute little besides taking away from the main storyline. The actors did their best to make it feel important, but while the rest has weight, this one barely registers.
The storylines are shown to us in a spectacular set that draws our attention constantly and transports us to the everglades with the use of the atmosphere. The mist that populated the stage eases us into this chaotic world and the musicians behind the big wooden wall welcomed us into the frenzy. The fight choreography of the piece was brutal and realistic, while Em’s dance at the beginning is mesmerizing. All of those aspects serve Em and Ty’s storyline, but do not fit the rest.
Bettis has an uncompromising look at love, hate and life, in a place many of us do not dare to look at. She does not mince words, and in the story of Ty and Em, she has a winner. But this is a tale of two plays, one that challenges the audience to look, and the other that makes them feel comfortable. The passion of Bettis in “Alligator” is palpable, and while it’s bogged down by unnecessary storylines, it never stops being entertaining. It has a powerful jaw, it just lacks bite.
*All images via Heather Phelps-Lipton
Out of 4 stars:
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