Written By Justin D Williams
Last night I attended a play by Labyrinth Theater Company entitled “Dolphins and Sharks.” The play stars Tina Fabrique, Flor De Liz Perez, Ceasar J. Rosado, Chinaza Uche and Pernell Walker. The played is directed by Charlotte Brathwaite.
Story - Yusuf studies philosophy. Xiomara is ambitious. Isabel keeps it real. These are the employees of Harlem Office, a neighborhood copy shop, where promotions are rare and raises are even rarer. But when one employee is given the chance to move up, friendships are tested and loyalty turns out to be less valuable than cold hard cash. Soon cutbacks and office politics have everyone fighting to keep their jobs and their sanity in this searing new play about clocking in, clocking out and rising up.
After leaving Dolphins and Sharks I was honestly amazed on how good and realistic the story is. The story follows a very simple premise of four co-workers Xiomara Yepez played by Flor De Liz Perez, Danilo Martinez played by Ceasar J. Rosado, Yusuf Nwachukwu by Chinaza Uche and Isabel Peters by Pernell Walker. Each co-worker has their own situations in life to deal with. Xiomara is trying to move up the corporate ladder at Harlem Office and become a manager. Danilo is trying to find a better job to provide better for his wife and incoming newborn baby. Yusuf is a recent college graduate but can’t find work in his field. Finally there is Isabel who is just trying to stay above water. She is a character that is doing what she must to provide for her three kids and help her husband. The great thing about having such a small ensemble cast is there is plenty of room for character development. Dolphins and Sharks story does well in this department. Each character gets enough time for the audience to connect with their backstory and really invest in their situations. For the sake of spoilers I won’t go deeper into the plot or backstories. Dolphins and Sharks tackles a lot of issues many of us face today such as, working at job that pays you less than your worth. Dealing with stereotypes, dealing with a friend becoming more successful than you. However one of the underlining themes I took from this play is survival. When you look at each character and how they make their decisions it’s not based on any ill will towards each other. The decisions made by the characters are purely based on survival. Each circumstance that the characters face will have them choosing what is best for them over the relationship and loyalty of a co-worker. This premise left an engaging dynamic as I try to figure out which character was truly in the wrong or were their actions justify. This dynamic is mostly shown with Xiomara as she is put in position where it’s business over friendship. Xiomara is driven and is not going to let anyone or anything stop her from reaching her goals. Sometimes Xiomara has to make tough decisions that is not the most popular even if it means losing relationships. I love how Dolphins and Sharks paints the picture of confliction. I have to do this to survive but on the other side of the spectrum my decision effects everyone. The narrative is well done and by the end of the show you feel a touch of realism and critical thinking to the situations which every single person can relate too. The story has some very deep moments especially during the transitions where the character Amenze Amen played Tina Fabrique gives some really powerful dialogue and songs. My favorite transition scene was the rendition of a very underrated song from Nas. I won’t spoil it but when I heard those lyrics I couldn’t help but smile. Overall the story is solid and very grounded that anyone can relate to at least one of these characters. There is a meaning for the title of the play and you have to listen to Amenze dialogue to really get the deeper meaning of Dolphins and Sharks. It’s a story worth seeing.
Acting - No play will ever succeed without the chemistry of the actors. The actors are amazing and they all have great chemistry with each other. The way the characters interact with each other is so genuine you really do get immersed with the story. Xiomara and Isabel have a great relationship when we’re introduce to them. Flor De Liz Perez and Pernell Walker are awesome together as they play off each other very well. You really get this sense of sisterhood between their respective characters. Chinaza Uche as Yusuf was awesome to see. He played the by the book employee we all know so well. Watching Yusuf I couldn’t help just shake my head because of how by the book he was. That really put me more into the story is because how well the actors presented their characters. Ceasar J. Rosado and Tina Fabrique also light up the stage with Danilo and Amenze. Amenze I like to think as the moral compass of the play as she tries to instill wisdom into the young folks working at Harlem Office. Ceasar’s Danilo had the audience laughing when he came on. His character is very witty and when the time came for him to get serious you really felt his passion when the conflict came with Xiomara. This is one talented cast who have great chemistry together and you can see the bond through their performances.
Final Thoughts: Dolphins and Sharks is a beautiful play with some terrific acting, great stage and production. The story has a very realistic tone tackling social issues without beating you over the head with one main perspective. If you’re in NYC this is a play you need to check out.