Paola Lázaro’s biting, brilliant There’s Always the Hudson (★★★★☆) follows partners-in-crime Lola and T all over New York City in one turbulent night that could end anywhere in the five boroughs.
Although, for Woolly Mammoth’s terrific world-premiere production, director Jess McLeod and scenic designer Misha Kachman have boldly suspended over the action a haunting clue of exactly where Lola and T’s odyssey might lead, foreshadowing a final destination from which one or both might not return.
Whether apprehended or not, that hint won’t spoil a thing, but rather adds a tinge of pathos to the powerful undercurrent of danger bubbling beneath the pair’s audacious mission. Lola and T, played by Lázaro and Justin Weaks, are sexual assault survivors who met and became friends in a support group. On this night, they’ve made a pact to confront the past traumas that still distress and consume them, by seeking revenge on those who did them harm.
Lola and T both are brash and impulsive, and don’t make the wisest decisions, which, of course, makes them a deeply intriguing and entertaining twosome. Thanks to skillful performances by Lázaro and Weaks, these avenging angels can be intensely righteous, totally wrong, or delightfully, excruciatingly messy, yet they’re still often hilarious. And we feel their pain.
Behind their jokes and sarcasm, each is processing a devastating violation of innocence and trust, trying to heal from crimes committed against their physical and emotional selves. Lázaro’s raw, honest script conveys their fury and sadness, their brokenness in blunt language, delivered with force by Lázaro and especially Weaks. “I’m a faggot, and I’m your worst nightmare,” T hisses to a man from his past.
McLeod’s assured direction allows space for Lola and T to get loud and unruly but never overwhelm the play or the audience. Transitioning smoothly between sets and scenes, the drama feels focused despite the wild, precarious ride. The emotions Lola and T unleash make sense, even when their actions are confounding.
Their grand gestures — like dropping to their knees and barking out their demons — call for big swings from Weaks and Lázaro, who at every step higher, match the play’s intensity. She delivers a tough, unapologetically angry Lola, who’s still caring and sincere.
Weaks gives T the quick tongue and attitude of a bitchy queen, but grounded in genuine hurt and unfulfilled desire. And even at the characters’ loudest and unruliest, or most desperate, Weaks and Lázaro keep it funny and true.
Elan Zafir and Migs Govea, portraying various foils met along Lola and T’s nightlong mission, supply necessary, quieter energy, which, in the case of one character, just disguises the darkly insidious behaviors of an abuser. For all its pointed bluntness, There’s Always the Hudson handles delicate topics — also including drug use, mental illness, and intimately detailed descriptions of gay sex — with sensitivity, just not piety.
A perfect example comes with the pair’s fascinating, drug-fueled encounter with their sworn enemy from the support group, “that bitch Madeline,” played in a wonderfully unpredictable turn by Marilyn Torres. What starts as another of Lola and T’s hard-hitting confrontations, twists and turns in ways neither sees coming.
In general, these two, binging on coke and vengeance, go into their ambushes with no clue how things will turn out, and we’re right there with them, on the edge of triumph or disaster — or, peering at them on their knees barking for what they need from the universe.
There’s Always the Hudson, which happens to have been the play Woolly Mammoth was rehearsing when the pandemic hit, respects and understands that surviving takes a toll. And payback’s a bitch.
There’s Always the Hudson runs through June 5 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW.
Tickets are $29 to $64. Pay-What-You-Wish tickets are also available at certain performances by selecting PWYW seats and adjusting the ticket price.
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