Tucked away somewhere in New York City, mere blocks between the looming shadows of a Whole Foods and a Trader Joe’s, the Horizon Theatre play “Citizens Market” (written by Cori Thomas) takes place in a comparatively modest mini-mart called the Super Union.
The store’s name is no coincidence, insofar as its small faction of immigrant workers hails from a veritable United Nations of different countries. As the newest applicant obviously observes during her job interview, “In America, it seems that no one is really from here.”
She’s Akosua (played by Jasmine Thomas), a garrulous recent refugee from Ghana, and the fortunate winner of a “visa lottery.” Her friend and roommate, Ciata (a lovely Cynthia D. Barker), a transplant from Sierra Leone, already works there.
Their hot-blooded boss, Jesus (Cristian Gonzalez), emigrated from El Salvador as a young boy more than 20 years earlier. The cast of characters also includes an eccentric, argumentative older couple from Romania, Bogdan (Allan Edwards) and Morfina (Carolyn Cook), who reside in a nearby homeless shelter.
Whenever he can manage to get a word in edgewise during her interview — between foul-mouthed phone calls with his frequently ineffectual suppliers — Jesus assures Akosua that he runs a “tight ship,” that the Super Union is a serious business, a “place of equanimity and equality,” with no room for “anarchy.” Above all, he implores her, “Not so much talking.”
Thomas’ play, conversely, is a lot more talk than it is action. While the imminent threat of deportation hangs heavily over one or more of them, the characters share their various back stories and express a common pursuit to realize their individual hopes and dreams in America. Akosua, for instance, was banished by her father and shamed by her village after an affair with a married man.
Here and now, she longs to further her education and aspires to a career as a social worker. When Ciata confides in her about her own romantic issues and troubled past, or if Bogdan and Morfina need any marital counseling, Akosua is really there for them to listen and advise.
In a charming performance, the actress Thomas shines and excels through it all, even during a number of underdeveloped and overdrawn scenes (imposed on her by the playwright Thomas) about Akosua losing and then ultimately “finding her voice.”
The meticulously detailed scenic design is by — who else? — the sister act of Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, a compact three-tiered set that depicts Jesus’ office upstairs, an employee break room at midlevel, and on the ground floor numerous checkout stations and rows of fully stocked groceries. It’s another beaut.
No fewer than three people are credited for directing the production, including both of Horizon’s co-founders/co-artistic directors, Jeff and Lisa Adler, as well as actress Jennifer Alice Acker (who has appeared in several shows with the Little Five Points company).
Over the course of 100 or so intermission-less minutes, they bring a generally slick and steady pace to proceedings. Although the absence of even one customer ever shopping at the store is rather odd, “Citizens Market” minds its own well-meaning business agreeably enough.
Through June 24. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays (no matinee on June 2); 5 p.m. Sundays. $25-$35. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. (in Little Five Points), Atlanta. 404-584-7450, horizontheatre.com.
Bottom line: A topical slice of immigrant life.
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