Useless: In brief
Borders and human trafficking are the subjects of Saviana Stanescu's latest piece, directed by Jose Zayas. Two Eastern European immigrants—one saved from sex servitude and married to an American, the other mentally challenged and brought to the U.S. for his kidney—meet and change each other's lives.
Useless: Theater review by Helen Shaw
In the cruelest moment of Saviana Stanescu’s human-trafficking drama, Useless, a woman tries to comfort a terrified young man called Omy (Phelan). “America good?” he stammers. “Money good?” Cora (Grosse) has been kind to Omy. That she then soothes him (“Yes,” she agrees in her heavy accent, “America…good”) is the worst betrayal in a play full of them.
Somewhere in New Jersey, Cora’s husband, Chris (Rishard), has taken in Omy as part of his gray-market organ business. Useful bodies—he reasons—must be used. He has certainly all but purchased Cora, an ex-prostitute once trafficked by Chris’s current boss. Appropriately enough for a play about treachery, Stanescu’s drama plays Judas to its own established reality. As part of her slippery dramaturgy, seemingly true plot elements subvert themselves or alter without notice. Accents slide and change (where is everybody from?); Cora sees Omy alternately as a surrogate son and a prospective lover. Omy is ravaged by something, but the play sometimes sees him as severely disabled, other times as simply traumatized and wrestling with English.
Stanescu and director José Zayas play with these indeterminate borders (Susan Zeeman Rogers’s lovely set is a cage made of wooden packing pallets), and the actors’ strong performances and the mise-en-scène glance at something both furious and kind. Unfortunately, Stanescu’s dream scenes can repeat what we’ve already learned, and the ending lurches suddenly toward sentiment. Chris may be expert in buying human hearts, but this lovely production—so close to doing real damage—only winds up getting ours in pieces.—Theater review by Helen Shaw
THE BOTTOM LINE This dark tale of exploited immigrants loses something in translation.