New Yorkers are sure to be laughing in recognition at Tales From the Tunnel, currently playing the Bleecker Street Theatre following a successful run at last year’s New York International Fringe Festival.
Based on hundreds of interviews with riders and subway workers that were conducted by writers-directors Troy Diana and James Valletti, the piece is an entertaining and occasionally heartfelt collection of stories that are brought to life by a terrific six-person ensemble cast.
The play’s brief vignettes encompass hook-ups, moments of random violence, race and class issues, and more. Some are sweetly sentimental, while others go for the jugular. The action is staged simply, but effectively, and moves at a quick pace.
Tony Award winner Wilson Jermaine Heredia is charming in his recurring role as a subway musician, and also endows the part with a quiet dignity. Vayu O’Donnell makes a strong impression in a number of his monologues, particularly as a homeless man who details the circumstances that led to his current — and hopefully temporary — state.
Geri Brown radiates presence, attitude, and a sense of humor, with a brash transit worker being her most noteworthy character. Brandon Jones does a great job in several parts, including that of a gay man who encounters a woman holding a large PFLAG sign following the Gay Pride parade, which reminds him of his own recently deceased mother.
Carla Corvo has a comic flair that enlivens a number of her roles, while Farah Bala is particularly moving as a South Asian woman living in a predominantly African-American neighborhood who relates a story that causes her to question her racial difference. Both of these performers have deepened their portrayals since the Fringe, which gives a greater deal of substance to the piece as a whole.
While many of the stories are monologues related directly to the audience, there are a number of sketches that utilize two or more of the performers simultaneously, and even a few sequences in which the whole cast takes part. Of these, the most memorable is the tale of the “Subway Six,” a group of friends who broke the world’s record for visiting every single subway stop in the least amount of time.
Not all of the stories are equally compelling, but there’s enough worthwhile material to make the show worth visiting.