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Jason Wiles and Henry Afro-Bradley in Safe
(Photo © Manu Boyer)
About 10 minutes into the second act of the Imua! Theatre Company's Safe, a loud noise suddenly spread throughout the theater and the actors looked very confused. Suddenly, an usher ran to the front of the stage to inform everyone that the smoke detector had been set off and the theater had to be evacuated immediately. As it turned out, this two-hour show ended at 11pm instead of 10pm at the press preview in question; but the audience stayed to learn the fate of the characters, all of whom are in a state of grave danger during the show.

An intimate and often comical piece, Safe has the makings of an Off-Broadway success and a regional theater hit. It concerns five New Yorkers who are trapped in a bank safe after the bank is beset by a pack of robbers. At the opening of the show, in the midst of a blackout and loud techno music, we hear the voice of a robber forcing our characters into the safe. There immediately follows a discussion about what the robbers want and how the hostages can deal with their dilemma. Because it happens to be Saturday, they don't know whether or not anyone on the outside is aware that the bank has been robbed. The level of drama increases as the characters become more desperate, yet this play by Tony Glazer and Anthony Ruivivar never loses its comic sensibility.

Safe is a character study of five people -- very different in terms of economics, age, sexuality, intelligence, etc. -- who find themselves in a life-or-death situation. The relationships that grow between them are pivotal to the intensifying drama of the piece. Each of them is stereotypical and dressed accordingly. In fact, the best way to describe the show would probably be to describe the characters:

1. Truss (Jason Wiles), is the psycho of the group. He insists that he be recognized as the group's leader (there's a voting procedure). He also takes it upon himself to strangle other characters that seem disobedient, to destroy the group's only cell phone by stomping violently on it, and to steal a gun from the security guard. He even convinces his comrades at one point that their best option would be to set a fire in order to gain the attention of the outside world. Wiles wears a mustache for this character -- perhaps to mirror another dictator?

2. Oakley (Henry Afro-Bradley), the bank's senile security guard, is said to have fallen asleep on the job and may therefore have given the robbers their opportunity. He also suffered a major head injury during the incident, so his forehead is covered with blood. Why is his name Oakley? Well, it gives Truss the opportunity to accidentally call him Oakland.

3. Feliz (Carlin Glynn) is the bank's manager, who forgot to turn on the police alarm after the robbers took the bank. Unlike the others, she does not have big dramatic moments, nor does she ever become the center of conflict. She hopes her husband will notice that she has not come for dinner.

4. Sabina (Yvonne Jung) is a young and attractive bank clerk. She's also very dumb, yet it is she who eventually saves the day by pointing out something about the captives' situation that no on else has bothered to notice. As everyone else becomes more violent and dramatic, Sabina keeps taking off more and more clothing until she's wearing nothing more than a white undershirt that displays lots of cleavage.

5. Ryan (Coby Bell) is the male youngster of the group. With his sweater jacket and crew cut, he is there to represent the upper-middle class, philosophy-driven college student. At one point, he discusses his special condition, known as animatronic-phobia: "I am convinced that I will die at the hands of some kind of puppet." As the play proceeds, Ryan begins to act increasingly gay. Because he is the most obvious threat to Truss's power, he is hand-cuffed to a pole for the entire second act.

The play feels like a no-holds-barred version of Reginald Rose's classic 12 Angry Men: Here we have a bunch of character types in an inescapable, life-changing situation that causes them to reveal their true selves. However, unlike the Rose play, here we have interaction between men and women. Another important difference is that there is no outside control over Safe's characters, and this allows verbal abuse, physical abuse, and even murder to occur among them. With its setup, its exploration of group psychlogy, and its surprise ending, Safe has the feel of an old-fashioned murder mystery -- the type of play that can make for quite an enjoyable evening.

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