A hapless character is on a quest to find a woman who thinks the taxi-driving profession is romantic. People in the audience laugh when he says this because they’re working under the assumption that no one could ever think of taxi driving as romantic. But that’s ridiculous.
Anyone interested in surfing the sick spiral vortex of human nature has, at one time or another, fantasized about driving a cab for a living. Taxi drivers are urban adventurers. At least from an outsider’s perspective, they live dangerous lives filled with excitement and nonstop intrigue. Sure, they spend a lot of time around drunks and hookers, but that’s part of the appeal. Besides, they mix with every type of person. Businessfolk, astronauts, wizards—you name it—everyone has spent at least a little time in a cab.
Robert Leonard is a former anthropologist at UNM. In 2001, he began an unorthodox anthropological experiment, taking a second job as a night-shift cabbie. He eventually compiled his varied experiences into Yellow Cab, a book of vignettes about driving a taxi in Albuquerque.
A friend of mine tells me it’s an amazing book. Phil Bock apparently thinks so, too. A respected veteran of the Albuquerque theater scene (and Leonard’s former colleague), Bock has adapted Yellow Cab for the stage. Leonard gave Bock’s script his seal of approval, and the result is this new Adobe production, which Bock also directs.
The set is simple enough. Four chairs arranged cab-like at center stage. The call center desk stands behind this. A backdrop scrawled in white chalk on black with stenciled yellow lettering depicts a mythologized topography of our city, as if drawn by a wise 4-year-old, a few humps for the volcanoes to the west, another few for the mountains to the east. Arrows point to Moriarty, Santa Fe, the Flying J truck stop, Dead Man’s Curve.
The story? There is no story. Or maybe Albuquerque itself is the story. (That’s probably it.) A bunch of different cab drivers take on a bunch of different passengers. Some of them are what you’d expect—hookers, drug addicts, the usual suspects. But there are plenty of surprises here, too. A cabbie humiliates an obnoxious call-in client. An elderly queen complains about Albuquerque’s excessively youthful gay scene. A pair of Japanese ladies on a long cab ride from the airport to Santa Fe become horrified and then dazzled by the searing brightness of New Mexico’s night sky.
This kind of thing is almost tailor-made for my sensibilities—the country music, the borracho stories, the whole, gorgeous, messed-up Albuquerqueness of it all. Of course, I’m also the sort of person who takes the romanticism of driving a taxi as a given, probably because I’ve never done it myself.
As far as the performances go, there are definitely a few rough patches, but once the play gets cooking they’re easy to ignore. Yellow Cab’s structure is helpful in this regard. The vignettes are all very short, so even if one doesn’t quite work out, it doesn’t last long enough to get under your skin.
A bigger problem is the ending, which doesn’t totally work for me. It felt a little too formal, forced even. The play might have worked better simply ending with the last vignette. In my opinion, this one doesn’t need any fancy flourishes. The strength of each little story is enough.
These are minor complaints, though. I enjoyed the ride, even if Yellow Cab takes a dozen detours and never reaches any particular destination. If I were paying by the quarter mile, that might be annoying. This show comes at a flat rate, though, and there are worse ways to spend an evening than aimlessly rolling through a beautiful, dangerous city with a cab driver at the wheel who’s aching to spill his (or her) guts.