“The Island of No Tomorrows,” a new musical produced by Interart Theatre and MultiStages, begins with an intriguing premise and then dissolves into a flood of disjointed ideas, plot strands, and theatrical styles. Playwright Fengar Gael ambitiously seeks to blend magic realism, feminist philosophy, and musical theater to tell the coming-of-age story of a young woman isolated from the world until her 15th birthday, but Gael is unable to make all the elements cohere. As a result, we get characters shifting illogically from one emotional state to another and musical numbers dropped into the action from out of nowhere, resulting in two-and-a-half hours of frustration, confusion, and exhaustion.
Gael’s problem isn’t that she has nothing to say; she just doesn’t have the discipline to boil down her voluminous content into a digestible meal. The narrative is instructive. When Esperanza is born with a faulty heart, doctors replace it with an artificial one. To protect her from the dangers of the world, her father, Don Hillardo, commands his mistress Maria to raise Esperanza in absolute isolation. As Esperanza’s mother died in childbirth, Maria contracts four wet nurses to feed her and instruct her in such skills as cooking, painting, cleaning, and singing. When Esperanza reaches 15, she escapes from the compound (known as Villa Leche), causing her father to go into a panic.
After Esperanza is found, Don Hillardo decides he wants to be a true father to her, but Maria tells him that Esperanza must be gradually exposed to the real world, so months pass before he is allowed to meet and spend time with her. Eventually, Esperanza, accompanied by two of her wet nurses, flies off to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a singer, leaving Don Hillardo and Maria, who is pregnant, to start a new family of their own. In the final scene, Esperanza and her fellow travelers, dressed in sexy costumes with glowing electric nipples, perform an all-out Lady Gaga–ish rock number, while Don Hillardo, Maria, and their new baby smile happily in a tableaux from one side of the stage.
Lorca Peress wisely directs her brave actors to behave in a down-to-earth manner, but that’s about all she can do to impose order on the chaotic events swirling about the stage. Alexis Lauren Kinney is electric as Esperanza, making all her scenes crackle with vitality, and Veronica Cruz delivers an engaging, almost believable Maria. On the production side, Jan Hartley provides haunting and unobtrusive projections.
The one component in “The Island of No Tomorrows” that actually works is the score. Featuring simple but effective lyrics by Gael and catchy, propulsive music by Anika Paris and N.B. Reed, it hints at the audience-friendly, comprehensible show this piece could have been but sadly isn’t.
Presented by Interart Theatre and MultiStages at the Interart Theatre, 500 W. 52nd St., 2nd floor, NYC. Nov. 8–18. (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.
Critic’s Score: D-