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At home in the Atlantic
InterAct Theatre Company presents Francisca da Silveira’s pay no worship
Pay no worship, by Cape Verdean American playwright Francisca da Silveira, is getting its world premiere at the Drake with InterAct Theatre Company. Tyrone L. Robinson directs this exploration of the tensions between two cousins on the tiny island of Fogo in the Cape Verde archipelago on the edge of a natural disaster.
This two-hander opens with Jose (Troy D. Wallace), who is singing, Snapchatting, and enjoying himself while picking grapes, barefoot and dirt-encrusted, on his family’s vineyard. He is soon joined by his cousin, Martin (Saiir Foy-Coles). Martin’s hat, boots, and gloves—gear to protect him from the elements—signal that his skin and body have been softened by his time abroad.
Two on this island
Jose is the island boy who has never left the land where they grew up. He is content with his beautiful island life: he has minimal education and enjoys life’s pleasures—namely beaches, women, and wine, which he has in abundance. His life is comfortably predictable, he knows where he fits in the hierarchy, and he has work that he knows how to do. He is a big fish in a small pond, and fears being a small fish in a big pond if he leaves.
Martin is the polar opposite. He’s wanted to get off the island for his whole life. He escaped to Portugal for a degree studying climate change, but ended up back on the island because he had trouble getting a job. He sees the place as a prison with no future, offering no way to make a better life for himself. He dreams of going to America and making it big, focusing on productivity instead of enjoying life. He thinks that every moment spent on the island is a moment of wasted potential and is frustrated with his homebody cousin’s lack of ambition.
The play’s premise is strong, and I enjoyed learning how the brothers see their world, and experiencing the world of Fogo. But I wanted a more nuanced and interesting exploration of the tensions between the two brothers. Instead, they begin and end as caricatures, lacking character growth throughout the play. Wallace and Foy-Coles lean into their roles, but ultimately have a disappointing lack of chemistry—lines feel recited, rather than becoming chances for listening or connection. And a predictable ending doesn’t help.
Voices we need
This play brings necessary attention to the countries and small islands that are most impacted by climate change, which is largely driven by the global north. The people in these locales have contributed the least to climate change and have little political power, but are left to deal with the majority of the consequences when disasters fed by climate change destroy homes and livelihoods. Jose and Martin discuss how Puerto Rico, a US territory, was essentially abandoned in the devastating wake of Hurricane Maria. How will even smaller islands, with even less political power, weather the increasingly dire storms? We need to bring these voices into the discourse on climate change more often.
This production is worth seeing just for the excellent design. A simple set greets the audience: volcanic rocks on the stage floor, bunches of grapes on vines, and a towering backlit mountain beyond. The simplicity of the setting allows Lily Fossner’s lights and Ryk Lewis’s sound to shine. The looming mountain’s lighting effectively shows the moods of mother nature, and at the show’s climax, set, lights, and sound come together in a way that is both cohesive and explosive. Costume designer Ariel Wang stands out with a change near the end of the show, an excellent piece of work that reminds the audience how thoughtful and innovative costume design can elevate a production.
More nuance and depth in exploring the script’s main tensions would have benefited this interesting setup, premise, and high-quality production. But I appreciate that InterAct takes chances on new work by emerging playwrights, and would be interested to see more work from da Silveira in the future.
What, When, Where
Pay no worship. By Francisca da Silveira, directed by Tyrone L. Robinson. Through April 23, 2023, at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 302 South Hicks Street, Philadelphia. (215) 568-8079 or interacttheatre.org.
The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake is a wheelchair-accessible venue with gender-neutral restrooms.
Masks are required inside the theater. Covid-19 vaccination is highly recommended, but not required.
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