Friday, August 20, 2010

THEATER REVIEW / Future Markets: "Monetizing Emma" - Want a Piece? By Ely Rosa Zamora (The Hispanic New York Project Special)

Asset securitization is a financial mechanism used since the 1970’s to supersize mortgage funding. The operation is similar to the sale of a business, where the erstwhile owners surrender their proprietary interest in the company in exchange for a comodified interest in the anticipated success (measured in pecuniary terms) of the business (i.e., the asset) in the future. If that explanation confused you don’t feel bad. As we now know, the Security & Exchange Commission’s regulators didn’t understand these shenanigans either; the uncontrolled use of this technique is blamed for a big part of The Great Recession.

In Monetizing Emma, the assets are the brightest American teenagers whose future means cash for the market in the present. In the play no genuine dreams of our children are valuable unless they guarantee profit. So the vast majority of teenagers are condemned by their lack of economic promise to a marginal life on the economic fringe, while even the privileged elite whose skills and talents earn them entry into the ranks of the potentially profitable find that in the process they lose their freedom to become what they really want.

With sharp satire, Chilean American playwright Felipe Ossa gives us a disturbing picture of our contemporary society by questioning the boundaries and values of a global economy where success is measured only in dollars. With such a controversial plot the play runs the risk of being praised as an ingenious idea for the Stock Market, which is to say that this play (like most good satire), is frighteningly close to the real world it parodizes.

Through the construction of an anti-hero, the author ingeniously weaves a powerful drama out of the illnesses of our society. Emma journeys through hypocrisy, greed, envy and betrayal. She is alone, even as she is surrounded by people who don’t understand her and devalue her dreams of being an English major. But in her solitude she struggles to stay true to herself and succeeds.

Monetizing Emma, presented as part of the New York Fringe Festival 2010, is directed by Leah Bonvissuto. Her aesthetic vision is rather conservative, with conventional entrances and exits. The staging mixes a realistic style of comedy performance with a minimalist set design, creating something of a contradiction that jeopardizes the cast's abilities to make solid transitions and create stronger characterizations. The rhythm needs to be adjusted and the music revised. The set design is practical but fails to differentiate between the outside world and Emma’s inner world, which in the play are both very clearly delineated. Despite these weak spots the play is well worth checking out and Felipe Ossa definitely deserves attention as a playwright.

Monetizing Emma, written by Felipe Ossa and directed by Leah Bonvissuto, is running two more performances as part of the New York Fringe Festival 2010. Sunday 8/22 @ 2:30 PM / Wednesday 8/25 @ 9:45 PM VENUE #17: HERE Mainstage Theater 145 Sixth Ave. [enter o n Dominick St. one block south of Spring] Tickets: $15-$18. For tickets visit

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