Playwright Neil Koenigsberg spent time volunteering at a New York LGBTQ center for homeless youth, and that transformative experience inspired him to write WINK, a play about a non-binary kid and the unexpected connections that happen in life and forever change us.
I encourage everyone from all belief systems to see it, not only for its brilliant commentary on why unconditional acceptance of all people is how our lives should be lived, but also for the perfectly cast lead actor whose own life mirrors the title character, adding incredible realism to his portrayal.
Non-binary actor Andrik Ochoa has been in Los Angeles for four years, neither identifying as male or female. And after chatting with Ochoa after the performance, I fully realized this play could have been written about him, and that whether Ochoa (or Wink) was born male or female should not matter to anyone else – but inevitably it will. And for the clarity of this review, I am choosing to use the pronoun “he” when referring to Wink or Ochoa, although the play has made me question why such labels are so important to so many who must always judge a book by its cover, so to speak.
We first meet Wink as he is creating chalk drawings on the stage floor while listening and singing along to Doo Wop music. After a phone call from his Aunt in the Bronx, we learn a little about how he wound up on the streets of downtown Los Angeles while waiting for a room to open up at the local LGBTQ center.
The gender-questioning teenager, while relaxing on a park bench, meets Dario Villanova (David Mingrino), a former A-list actor who is now relegated to doing B movies. The two have seen each other at the center as Dario volunteers there, but had never really spoken before this chance meeting. The two soon discover that besides both being down on their luck, they also love Doo Wop music.
This synchronistic meeting connects these two souls, changing their lives in ways they could never have foreseen. And ultimately both learn that sometimes the best way forward is to stop fighting the past.
As the story is told, we also meet a few other Hollywood hangers-on who hope Dario’s success will gain fame and fortune for each of them as well. First there is his self-centered agent/manager Peter King (handsome Adam Cardon), who is pushing Dario to accept a role in an awful, Romanian B movie simply for the $800,000 salary being offered to him.
And then there is the up-and-coming, second-rate publicist Valerie Smith (Amy Argyle) who takes on the role of writing a press release to announce Dario’s decision to donate a million dollars to the center in Wink’s honor. Of course, Peter cannot accept not knowing if Wink is really born male or female, and Wink has no intention of revealing any secrets to him.
Added into the mix is Wink’s social worker Manuel Ortiz (Euriamis Losada) who investigates the situation when Wink is offered a place to stay in Dario’s home, concerned for his client’s safety while knowing how much such a large financial windfall could mean for the center. Sparks and fists fly when Manuel meets Peter as the press conference is being planned, with the two men verbally challenging each other from opposite sides of the unconditional acceptance debate.
But ultimately it should not, and does not, really matter when the press conference winds up acknowledging Wink the new media darling of the moment. But is he ready for that much attention?
By the end of the play, you will certainly hope so as the questioning street kid is thrown into the spotlight.
The West Coast premiere of “Wink” by Neil Koenigsberg, brilliantly directed on a multimedia set by Michael Allen Angel, continues at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave, L.A. through Jan. 13 at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Mondays, and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets $15 to $45. Reservation and information at www.Plays411.com/Wink and 323-960-1055. Wheelchair accessible, street parking only so arrive early.