Fearless and funny ‘There’s Always the Hudson’ premieres at Woolly

Paola Lázaro’s scintillating script about two sexual abuse survivors is astonishingly entertaining and deeply moving.

In There’s Alway the Hudson, Paola Lázaro’s phenomenally fearless and effing funny new play now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, two suicidal survivors of sexual abuse set out to confront those who have wronged them. Lázaro’s endearing protagonists — Lola (played brilliantly by Lázaro herself) and T (the extraordinary Justin Weaks) — met and became fast friends in a sexual abuse survivor support group.

Their trauma taps into a pain that will be familiar to sexual abuse survivors but that has rarely been expressed with such veracity on stage. For in Lola’s and T’s voices can be heard the howl of the harmed and hurting; in their stories can be felt the rage of the wounded that could at any instant turn against oneself because of powerlessness to get justice. And on behalf of her two exquisitely written seekers, Lázaro cuts to the quick of a hard truth: healing without restitution is insufficient.

Justin Weaks as T and Paola Lázaro as Lola in ‘There’s Always the Hudson.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Episodically throughout the play, Lola and T have mind-blowing encounters of reckoning. T, a young gay Black man (whose nickname is short for Toussaint), accosts the white man who fucked him in the ass as a six-year-old. The older man (played by Elan Zafir) pretends not to recognize T and acts as though nothing ever happened. But T detects in the man a madness and sadness, a response that for T releases something redemptive. As T interprets and explains later to Lola: “He knows… The motherfucking abuser knows…. I didn’t make this shit up….It’s real….It did happen to me.” And with this validation T feels affirmed.

Lola, a young Latinx woman, has a reckoning with a related result. She pays a visit to her mother (played by Marilyn Torres), whom she loves dearly. Their precious scene together, played affectionately in her mother’s bed, is interrupted abruptly when Lola discloses that her mother’s brother was fucking her since she was seven. That’s when Lola learns her mother knew all along what the uncle was doing and did nothing to stop it. As Lola later interprets and explains to T:

My whole life I’ve told myself that everything that’s happened was my fault. That all the bad shit in my life is because I caused it.

And I have spent so many years feeling that shit, like knowing that shit, believing that shit.

But after tonight? I see shit for what it is…. For the first time in my life, I’m sure that it wasn’t because of me….”

Between T’s “He knows” and Lola’s “She knew” are two broken young people yearning to heal from what was done to them. In the event they fail, they have made a pact: to leap to their death off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River. Which sounds nothing like hilarious. But in Lázaro’s scintillating script and in Lázaro’s and Weaks’s empathic performances, it emphatically is.

Paola Lázaro as Lola and Marilyn Torres as Isabella Lola in ‘There’s Always the Hudson.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Under a massive, ominously looming suspension-bridge cable, Misha Kachman’s scenic design effectively sketches the script’s disparate locations (albeit sometimes puzzlingly, as when a character enters through a trapdoor). Barbara Samuels’s lighting design serves the cinematic flow of scenes well. Ivania Stack’s costumes complement the actors’ antic hip-hop-inspired physicalization of inner feelings. And the skilled fight and intimacy choreography by Rachel Lee Flesher is consistently persuasive.

Lázaro’s intimate understanding of her characters — together with Jess McLeod’s sensitive direction — illuminates the way Lola’s and T’s histories of sexual abuse have impacted their sex lives. T says he has “been working with myself for over 20 years to get to the point where I can let myself go enough so that I can actually have consensual sex….” And Lola says she wants “to have sex like fucking normal people… after all the work we did… all the shit we fucking went through…”

Paola Lázaro as Lola and Justin Weaks as T in ‘There’s Always the Hudson.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Such longings are typically shared if at all in therapy and support groups. Lázaro boldly channels them through two brave and beautiful souls played by two brave and beautiful actors who take us on a heart-rending journey that is astonishingly entertaining, deeply moving, and a profoundly important contribution to the canon of truthtelling theater.

Running Time: 80 to 90 minutes, with no intermission.

There’s Always the Hudson runs through June 5, 2022, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St NW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($29–$64) are available online, by phone at (202) 393-3939, and via email at tickets@woollymammoth.net. Twenty-eight Pay-What-You-Will tickets are also available to every performance by selecting the PWYW seats and adjusting the ticket price. Patrons who are 30-years-old and younger may, at any time, purchase Section C tickets for $20 to any performance. There are also discounts available for educators, first responders, and active U.S. military personnel, spouses, and veterans. More information is available at woollymammoth.net. 

COVID Safety: Entrance to any event at Woolly Mammoth will require proof of vaccination or, for those who are not vaccinated, proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of the event start time. Guests may show physical or digital proof of their health status, but not through mobile or third-party apps. Masks must be worn at all times while in the building. Learn more about Woolly Mammoth’s health and safety protocols at woollymammoth.net/about-us/safety/.

The playbill for There’s Always the Hudson is online here.

Accessibility Performances
Open Captioned: May 25, May 26, May 27, June 1
ASL Interpreted: May 27
Audio Described: May 11 (Evening), May 18 (Evening)

There’s Always the Hudson
Written by Paola Lázaro
Directed by Jess McLeod

Paola Lázaro (Lola), Justin Weaks (T), Elan Zafir (Chase/Scott/Rudy), Migs Govea (Ernesto/Antonio), and Marilyn Torres (Madeline/Angie/ Isabela).

Misha Kachman (Scenic Designer), Barbara Samuels (Lighting Designer), Ivania Stack (Costume Designer), Tosin Olufolabi (Sound Designer), Rachel Flesher (Fight/Intimacy Choreographer), Chelsea Radigan (Dramaturg), Leigh Robinette (Stage Manager), and Kaitlyn E.M. Sapp (Assistant Sound Design).

SEE ALSO:
Woolly Mammoth 2022/23 season to feature regional, U.S., and world premieres
Woolly Mammoth commits its ‘badass theater’ to accessibility

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John Stoltenberg is executive editor of DC Theater Arts. He writes both reviews and his Magic Time! column, which he named after that magical moment between life and art just before a show begins. In it, he explores how art makes sense of life—and vice versa—as he reflects on meanings that matter in the theater he sees. Decades ago, in college, John began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile, his own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then John’s life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction essays, articles, and books and had a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.

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