Review: ‘Undesirable Elements,’ Documentary Theater for Uncivil Times



From left: Mohammad Murtaza, Syl (Andrea) Egerton, De-Andra Pryce and Rafael Rosario in “Undesirable Elements” at The Duke on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times

Only in the last minutes of their show do the seven young New Yorkers telling their stories in “Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ” mention the Manhattanite in the White House, the one who spent his childhood in Queens, and whose shadow looms over the production.

“I want to find a way to help, but I can’t go to the protests,” says Monica Victoria Tatacoya Castañeda, a Mexican-born, 19-year-old feminist from Brooklyn whose immigration status — she is enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — means that she can’t risk arrest. “So I have to look for another way.”

For her, this gentle, humane, powerfully moving work of documentary theater by Ping Chong + Company is a form of activism. The conceit of this piece of documentary theater is that each person onstage belongs to a group that is marginalized in the culture — because of skin color or place of origin, sexual orientation or gender or poverty.

Generating empathy, defying small-mindedness, this is an inherently political show that arrives at a time of fervently uncivil discourse. Conceived by Ping Chong, “Generation NYZ” believes in the power of storytelling to create a stronger, kinder culture.


Clockwise from top left: Monica Victoria Tatacoya Castañeda, Syl (Andrea) Egerton, Porscha Polkahantis Rippy, Mohammad Murtaza, Edwin Aguila and Rafael Rosario Credit Emon Hassan for The New York Times

Written and directed by Sara Zatz and Kirya Traber in collaboration with the performers, the show takes the form of a staged reading, with each cast member seated at a music stand holding a script. They tell their own stories and help to tell one another’s, their narratives interweaving. Some of the performers have stage experience, but they are playing themselves, and all are unvarnished enough that their charm comes from their everydayness.

Syl (Andrea) Egerton, an 18-year-old from Queens by way of Europe, mentions being uncertain how to answer when a video game asked him, in middle school: “Are you a boy or are you a girl?” Mohammad Murtaza, also 18, also from Queens, recalls how he hid his depression from his Pakistani immigrant parents, fearing their reaction. De-Andra Pryce, a Brooklyn 18-year-old, speaks of reconciling her law-enforcement ambitions with her blackness.

Continue reading the main story


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here