To tell stories about a place like Jackson Heights, one of the world’s most diverse neighborhoods, requires theater that’s as bold and rich as the community itself.
Good thing there’s Theatre 167, a Jackson Heights-born company of writers and performers committed to telling “stories that don’t get told about people from communities that are often unseen,” according to artistic director Ari Laura Kreith.
The company is now presenting its latest work, “I Like To Be Here: Jackson Heights Revisited, or, This Is A Mango,” at the New Ohio Theatre as part of this year’s Theater:Village festival.
The show, Kreith said, incorporates elements of the company’s previous Jackson Heights Trilogy, and draws inspiration from real characters and locations in the neighborhood.
Theater 167, which is named for the 167 languages spoken in the Queens neighborhood, formed in 2010 after Kreith moved there from California. Initially, a priority was to present their work in Jackson Heights, but the company is increasingly looking to “share the sense of possibility” of multicultural living “beyond the borders of the community as well.” The Theater:Village show marks the company’s first in downtown Manhattan.
As in the company’s previous show, “Jackson Heights 3AM,” the play is set in the middle of the night, Kreith said, when “Jackson Heights really comes alive.” “People are baking at the bakery at 4 a.m. and cab drivers are coming off their shifts and restaurants are open 24/7 and families are on the street at midnight,” she said.
Experiencing Jackson Heights after dark, Kreith said, offers “a really important window into the neighborhood” and, from a dramatic perspective, presents infinite possibilities. “People are out at night because they’re looking for something, because they want to connect,” she said.
In “I Like To Be Here,” a cast of disparate personalities collide. A Bangladeshi cab driver falls in love with an Ecuadorian woman when he sees her baking bread through a window. A closeted cop from Long Island comes into town for a date that goes horribly wrong. A Columbian drag queen has a chance encounter in a cab. The show, Kreith said, is about “finding connection where you don’t expect it.”
While the show does much to highlight the diversity of the area – audiences at the New Ohio will hear Spanish, Hindi and Russian, among other languages – it also serves to underscore “how much we have in common,” Kreith said.
“Right now our world is fraught with examples of how differences of culture and language and ethnicity can really lead to disaster. Yet here we have this amazing example of a community where immigrants from 100 nations speaking 167 translatable languages live side by side,” said playwright Jenny Lyn Bader. “Yes, there are conflicts. But there are also amazing commonalities and amazing transcendence of those boundaries between people.”
If you go: “I Like To Be Here: Jackson Heights Revisited, or, This Is A Mango,” at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher St. Through Sept. 27. $16-$18. NewOhioTheatre.org.