“You give him labor. He pays us less than it’s worth. That’s the American way!”
Written by Alexander Perez and directed by Toney Brown, Randy’s Dandy Coaster Castle takes place at a run-down amusement park in the Florida panhandle. The audience gets a glimpse into the lives of the park’s four young workers as well as the head honcho “Randy” (whose real name is Ramon, played by Nate Betancourt) himself. What struck me most powerfully about Perez’ provocative dark comedy was just how realistic it is, especially after having done extensive personal research on ANOTHER family park (coincidentally, also in Florida…) which shall remain nameless. What I learned was that once the façade of fairy dust was swept away, what was left was a community of overworked employees who had to deal with long hours, low pay, and little if any chance for advancement. Echoing the experiences of the characters in Randy’s Dandy Coaster Castle, let’s just say that the aforementioned nameless place, despite its public image, is definitely NOT the happiest place in the world– at least not for the many who work there day after day. There’s no anthropomorphic mouse in Randy’s Dandy Coaster Castle, but there IS a walking, talking friendly rat. More about that later…
Randy’s kingdom may not be so magical for his employees, but this makeshift family of workers still create their own brand of fun, indulging in their smoky “daily ritual” before each shift and engaging in as much good-natured fun as they can get away with. The quartet of workers include engaged 30-something couple Ricardo and Schubert. Ricardo (AKA Rye, played by Perez himself) is burned out and super-sarcastic, albeit humorously so. One of Rye’s funniest lines is, “We ALL hate it here. It’s the only thing we all have in common!” When another worker asks him, “How are you still employed?”, he retorts, “That’s one of life’s strange mysteries.” Apparently, carnival life is just only slightly more appealing than construction work. Schubert (AKA Schu, played by Susana Montoya Quinchia) is smart and ambitious– arguably too smart and ambitious, in fact, to be doing what she’s doing. She has taken on the role of manager, admitting that her role is “twice as much work for two dollars more an hour”. Burgess (Paula Aliya) is the eager-to-please “new girl”, and Luke Bond rounds out the cast as Arlo, a 20-something who experiences an personal epiphany of sorts when he is asked to wear the
“Mickey Rat” “Cuddly Kyle” costume as the park’s mascot.
The dramatic stimulus in Perez’ story comes when two employees innocently request the same day off from work… and something seemingly so benign at face value soon shines a light upon the dynamics of power and privilege in the workplace. We also learn that there’s more to Schu, Rye, Burgess, and Arlo behind the corny red vests they have to wear. Thanks to Perez’ character development and the acting talents of the entire cast, the audience quickly learns to care for the workers at Randy’s Dandy Coaster Castle because we get to hear their personal stories. The audience feels genuine empathy, especially for the two female characters: Quinchia’s Schubert and Aliya’s Burgess. As Arlo, Luke Bond is a comic delight, even if Bond occasionally seems to sophisticated to be playing such an uncomplicated soul. To Perez’ credit, “Randy”/Ramon– despite the character’s toxic grandiosity– is not written as a one-dimensional villain. As with the other characters, we do get to hear HIS backstory as well. That said, the audience is unlikely to feel much sympathy for the man who another character aptly calls “Mickey Mouse Mussolini”– especially after the play’s conclusion. That conclusion, by the way, is quite heavy… but in keeping with the realism of the story, it’s also not the least bit surprising. In its 86 minute running time and the intimate space of the IRT Theatre, Randy’s Dandy Coaster Castle packs a wallop,.
Randy’s Dandy Coaster Castle continues through Sunday, August 29th at The IRT Theatre, 154 Christopher st. NYC #3B (third floor). This is a free show. Visit here for tickets and more information