Radical Evolution's The Golden Drum Year, directed by Simón Adinia Hanukai, will appeal to everyone who has ever loved New York but suspected the city didn’t love them back. The play opens on the eve of 2011. Eugene (Allan K. Washington) has just moved to the city from a nameless small town. He’s found work at a grocery store on the Upper West Side, and he's surprised that most of his co-workers are creative types with advanced college degrees. The immensely likable Eugene—everyone calls him Eu—leads the audience through his year of discovery and doubt, as he struggles to find his place in the big city.
If Eu is the anchor for the ensemble cast of characters in The Golden Drum Year, Xochi (Zuleyma Guevara) is the sun around which they all revolve. Xochi is the store’s manager and mother figure. She treats her crew like family, guiding them through each of their respective crises, and then herding them all to a 24-hour karaoke bar to bond over songs and cocktails. The characters all need Xochi in their own way. Jero (Fernando Gonzalez) is the store’s security guard, and a war veteran who is trying to keep his demons at bay. Jackson (Andrew Belcher) is a tightly wound artist with a short, angry fuse. Rounding out the ensemble cast are Lisha, played by Tia James, who is especially adept at communicating through poetry, and Perdita (Sonia Villani), who moved to New York to pursue her dreams, only to watch them crumble upon her arrival. The cast is beautifully diverse and talented, though some characters have stronger story lines than others. On that note, the story arc is not the play’s strongest point; some loose threads still dangle when the lights dim, but that doesn’t take away the enjoyment.
The Golden Drum Year evolved from the poetry of Beto O’Byrne, who wrote a poem a day to commemorate his first year in New York. While Eu talks to the audience in earnest and open prose, the characters he encounters speak in O’Byrne’s poems, many of which evoke the loneliness of living in a densely populated metropolis. The story unfolds through poetry, dance and moving images projected onto the wide white set. In the background is music performed by the astoundingly talented Jonathan Camuzeaux, who plays a collection of instruments ranging from guitar to piano to a five-gallon water jug.
For people who flinch at the thought of 90 minutes of poetry, rest assured there is enough prose, music and dancing, not to mention hypnotic visuals, to fill the time. There’s no trouble following the story line, and New Yorkers especially will connect with Eu as he commiserates about 4th floor walk-ups, the relentless raw winds of March, and the stench of trash on those sweltering summer days when the city just feels like it is “on you.” Amidst these struggles, The Golden Drum Year assures us that despair is only temporary and if we wait it out, joy is just around the bend.