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A CurtainUp Review
References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot
|. . .What are premonitions, hunches, Déjà vu,
and the little voices in your head?
That's me --
whispering mightily in your ear,
hoping to give you a fighting chance in this hard carnivorous world
A tall, heavy-set man in white stands on top of a gray cement building playing a violin, while a young woman sits in the yard below staring into the night sky. The fiddler on this roof is in the realm of the magical realism that's dear to the heart of Latino. The locale is the desert town of Barstow, California, a few months after the Gulf War.
John Ortiz & Rosie Perez
The opening scenes of José Rivera's new play References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot focus on the surreal. Gabriela (the young woman in a commendable stage debut by Rosie Perez) enters into a poetic conversation with the violinist (Michael Lombard) who personifies the Moon (at once wise-cracking and lyrical character, with a decidedly earthly interest in Gabriela). The title, evident via the Moon Man's sliver of a Dali-like mustache. is a metaphorical link to the fantastical yearnings in all of us. It is also an actual line of dialogue: Gabriela's response to the Moon Man recital of all the end products "from the tears of women" which concludes with a reference to a Dali painting.
In counterpoint to Gabriela's love-obsessed dreams, prompted by many months of separation from her husband, we follow the pursuit of her human-sized house cat (Kristine Nielsen) by an amorous, free-spirited and also human-sized coyote (Kevin Jackson). Gabriela also has another would be lover, a neighborhood teenager (Carlo Alban, engagingly aflame with adolescent lust).
True to the genre, this exotic beginning is grounded in a rather typical story of life in the real world, in this case, the situation of a couple whose marriage is at a crossroads.
Gabriela and Benito (John Ortiz) were poor and undereducated South Bronx kids when they met in a bar. Attacked by a group of skinheads, they ran out together and it was when Benito stopped to look at the moon, even as their attackers were gaining on them, that she fell in love. As she recalls, "I realized I like a man who notices the moon even with skinheads coming closer and closer. I thought that was brave and thoughtful, manly and kind. "
The sensitive young lover, who looked upon her as an angel, has since become a tough career soldier determined to put in the nine more years that will give him the security of a twenty-year service pension. Benito's long and frequent tours of duty have made Gabriela feel isolated and frustrated. She's made no friends among the other army wives. Her efforts for further education have been stifled by her erratic life to a man whose Machismo has hardly been diminished by army life. Whenever he's home he expects her to put her classes on hold with the result that she still can't do better than a dull job clerking at Cosco's. The sexual pull between husband and wife is still there, but she feels used by and estranged from Benito. She laments that "the dreams of my husband are a mystery to me" and wonders "what secrets have abducted Benito from me?" As she sees it, the only way they'll get back what they once had -- to take time out to stop and look at the moon -- is for Benito to quit the the army which has separated them physically and emotionally. He, on the other hand, wants her to understand what being a soldier has meant for him and to hang in with him for the nine years left until he can collect on that pension.
The marital situation explodes during Benito's return after a year in the Persian Gulf. It ends in an ultimatum from Gabriela that ties together the rather familiar soap opera of the marriage on the rocks with the magic represented by the moon. As in his last two plays, Sueno (also penned by Mr. Ortiz -- see link) and Jesus Hopped the A Train (see link), John Ortiz is riveting. His passionate and ripped-from-the-gut delivery gives poignancy to the playwright's earthy poetry. It is only when he is off-stage that you notice the varying degrees of success in its fantastical and concrete story telling and some of the script's wordier excesses. The dimpled Ms. Perez, despite her lack of stage experience, is a fine and feisty partner for this powerhouse performer.
Jo Bonney's sharp direction abets the integration of the fantastical and everyday elements, as does Neil Patel's multi-functional set and David Weiner's artful lighting. Of the supporting cast, Kevin Jackson and Carlo Alban stand stand out as the coyote and as young Martin, the Gabi-smitten teenager.
Some may see the play as an effort to depict the struggle of maintaining a Latino culture in an American world -- a culture in which women are expected to put their needs second to those of their men. But beneath this easily formed assumption there is the more universal question: How important is the imagination that makes you stop to look at the moon to sustaining the special something in your psyche and in your closest relationships?
Benito's impassioned plea in defense of his solder's life and for Gabriela to continue to share it is tough and yet, it holds out a glint of hope that he may still find a moment to look at the moonlit sky:
. . . I am in the Army. In the Army you travel. That's what the army is, homegirl! a great motherfucker of a travel agency. I told you. I'm staying in the Army 20 years and retiring at the ripe old age of 38, pocket full of pension and never for a second sweat the money shit for so long as I have life, never. . .You think I'm common, but I'm not. I jump out of planes. I climb mountains. I know martial arts. I can survive in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a shoe string and a mirror. I can take apart an MI6a2 and put it back together blindfolded. I speak three languages. I met the Secretary of Defense. I defended an oppressed country against naked aggression. I was in history. Is none of that any good any more? -- A house, a car, insurance, shelter, love, you get love, because I stupidly, ridiculously, frantically love you -- you get that? -- you see that in the plus column? Should I repeat? It's the love, stupid?
Mr. Rivera is currently also represented at Intar 53 ( with 508 West 53rd Street (10/11 Avs.) (212) 279-4200) with "Six Children's Plays For Adults", all six again showing the coexistence of the world of the mundane and the fantastic.
Sueno Rivera's last play at MCC
Jesus Hopped the A Trainwhich starred John Ortiz
|REFERENCES TO SALVADOR DALI MAKE ME HOT
by Josť Rivera
Directed by Jo Bonney
Starring John Ortiz & Rosie Perez; with Carlo Alban, Kevin Jackson, Michael Lombard and Kristine Nielsen.
Set Design: Neil Patel
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Costume Design: Clint E. B. Ramos
Sound Design: Donald DiNicola and Obadiah Eaves (Read our Interview with Donald DiNicola)
Original Music: Carlos Valdez
Running Time: 2 hours, including one intermission
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St, www.publictheater.org; 239-6200
3/20/01-4/22/01; opening 4/11/01-- extended to 4/29/01
Performances: Tues - Sat, 8:00 p.m.; Sat and Sun, 2:00 p.m. ; Sun 7:00 p.m.
$45 quiktix, discounted rush tickets, sold upon request to the general public if available one-half hour before curtain time to any non-sold-out performance.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer
based on 4/08 performance