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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
By the Waters of Babylon
The play begins in the garden of Catherine (Shannon Cochran), a Texas widow and possible murderess who has hired Arturo (Demian Bichir), a Cuban exile, to chop down the weeds. After a prickly start and a long, desultory but realistic conversation, Arturo quotes a poem mentioning the drink "mojito"" and when Catherine realizes she has all the ingredients, she breaks them out.
Arturo’s reluctance melts and the two down many mojitos. Inhibitions melt, too, and Arturo, a writer in Cuba, tells Catherine the tragic stories of pain and death he has unintentionally inflicted, goaded beyond endurance by the oppression of artists in his homeland. Catherine reaches out to comfort him and offers sex.
In the second act, which takes place in Catherine’s bedroom, she reveals her own pain and complicity in the death of her abusive husband. Arturo, the artist who never thought of anyone but himself and now faces writer’s block, and Catherine, too afraid to stand up to her husband, find themselves exiles for different reasons.
Director Richard Seyd has skillfully effected the play’s sometimes abrupt transitions by underscoring the characters’ agonized volatility. The focal point of Michael Ganio’s set design is Jason H. Thompson’s projection design in which the wind blows through the trees and the waves crash on the shore.
Schenkkan pulls no punches in his depiction of Catherine. She’s no pathetic victim and a in the hands of Shannon Cochran, she’s a feisty bitter beauty with an edge who is as afraid of love as Arturo is wary of accepting it. Bichir, a fascinating charismatic actor, tones down the macho element in Arturo, expressing the gentleness and sensitivity of a poet. Their tragedies feel both conventional and melodramatic, until we realize where Schenkkan is going with this. The final act of absolution created by Arturo illuminates the metaphorical nature of this play, as well as the use an artist makes of personal tragedies.