Fringe Review: NE 2nd Avenue

Teo Castellanos' award-winning solo-characterizations capture the diversity of urban America

Before I begin, let me freely admit that I'm completely biased in my opinions about this show.

Let me explain why. It's not that I'm in any way related to Teo Castellanos, never even met the man. No, it's that upon seeing his solo-characterizations based on Miami's inner city neighborhoods, I became completely, overwhelmingly homesick.

Those of you who come from the rich, raw, mixed and often maddening diversity of the US will know what I mean. I haven't seen such a range of ethnicities, styles, accents and cultures since I quit teaching high school in Oakland, California. Nor did I realize just how much I missed it until I saw NE 2nd Avenue last night.

Through a skillful blend of music, minimal costume changes (hats and shoes), and extraordinary insight and perceptiveness, Castellanos is able to bring to life a miscellany of characters taken straight from the streets of Miami and indeed almost any major city on the coasts.

I recognized two of my old students in his portrayals, one a proud, young black woman, knowing herself to be a queen but not yet knowing how to fulfill her own prophetic dreams. The other was a young man selling weed on the streets, a complex and contradictory mix of compassion and cruelty.

The other characters I knew from neighborhoods and community centers, my local bus stop and my friends. Castellanos' talent lies in his ability to depict both a universal type of person (perhaps even a stereotype in some cases), while imbuing his characters with an individuality and emotionality uniquely their own. Thus, we as an audience recognize the other and ourselves in his portrayals.

My only criticism of the piece is a certain lack of cohesion between the parts. Although there was the motif of a tourist, it felt forced in places and detracted rather then added to the effectiveness of Castellanos' story-telling style. I wanted to see more inter-connection between the characters and perhaps even the presence of the playwright himself. There were occasional dips in energy and understanding, yet for the most part, it held our attention through and through.

I highly recommend this winner of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and can only urge those of you who miss the layers, the ironies, the humor and the beauty of living in a diverse setting, to go and remind yourselves of it! And for those who have never experienced this, go and discover it…

NE 2nd Avenue is playing every day at 10pm at A Studio Rubín until Sunday, June 6th.

For more information see the Fringe Festival Praha website.

Video on YouTube

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