Red Bank Theater Features World Premiere ‘Hit’ Comedy Now Through Feb. 26


Drew Eldridge, Entertainment Editor

“Theater for Social Change” is a concept every theatrical student broaches at one point. It’s a fairly straightforward concept, theater can be an effective means of social change. There have been multiple shows that have managed to achieve this level of affectation. “Hair,” “Rent,” “Ragtime,” “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide” and many more.

But what is the method for creating iconic protest theater? Look no further than playwright Mando Alvarado, and his new work, “Living & Breathing,” currently being presented at Two River Theater in Red Bank.

“Living & Breathing” is the ultimate piece of theater for social change. This is not because it tasks its audience to examine understanding, but instead ponder their own misunderstandings. Where did you misstep in the quest for social justice? Do these missteps matter if our intentions remain well-meaning? Is everyone a victim of the inherent biases of the human condition?

What if there was a Latin man hired to act as a statue in a mariachi costume in your best friend’s living room?

The play takes place inside a loft in Los Angeles, with a rather brilliant design by Raul Abrego. The stage is almost empty save for three black floating chairs, two benches, a bar cart and a decorative pedestal. The back of the stage is lit brilliantly with illuminated columns that mimic window shades.

Paired with lighting by Cat Tate Starmer, this creates the recipe for the perfect imaginative minimalist setting. A beam of light cascades the un-lit columns to mimic street light peering through shades, a brilliant way to use an intimate thrust stage.

The plot centers around three characters: Jeremy (Chris Gardner), Todd (Micheal Markham) and Michael (Christopher M. Ramirez). The three met in college and became instantly inseparable. As they age, their lives become more and more entangled. On a visit to Todd’s apartment, Michael takes offense to Todd’s newly purchased art piece: A “living statue.” The two friends begin to argue, and soon Michael turns to Jeremy for agreement. Soon, all three friends become infuriated with each other’s perspectives.

Michael and Jeremy are two BIPOC people. Michael is of Spanish descent, and Jeremy is half-Black and half-Jewish. Todd is white and of Irish descent. As the friends divulge their arguments, they begin to question each other’s assumptions surrounding their respective identities.

The way the piece unfolds is extremely fast-paced. Without a pause for intermission, the scenes run almost directly into each other. (While several older members of the audience seemed perturbed by this, I believe the no-intermission format and quick pacing work to the play’s advantage.) There is not one moment of stillness, as an argument based on fever and bias should feel.

The actors communicate this fervor wonderfully. A spotlight, however, must be placed on Carlos Ibarrra who plays the living statue (Ruben). For minutes on end, Ibarra stands perfectly still on a pedestal, modeling several different outfits, each with its own set of props — an enormous physical triumph within itself. This stillness is then complemented by Ibarra’s commanding moments within the play’s finale, an amazing performance that brought this new work to life.

Alvarado’s world premiere comedy is everything the world needs. It’s funny, subversive, and especially poignant, all wrapped up in an aesthetically beautiful bow. It’s a hit!

Directed by Rebecca Martinez, “Living & Breathing” runs through Feb. 26. For more information, visit