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|A CurtainUp Review
Under A Western Sky
Actress and playwright Amparo Garcia originally conceived this fine portrait gallery of a play as a solo performance piece for herself, but as she explained in an interview with a student intern, Malka Percal, reprinted in the Women's Project & Productions Newsletter "the characters started talking to each other." The result is a fascinating memory play in which four actors--(Irma Bello, Gilbert Cruz, Sol Miranda, Felix Solis)-- portray an amazing number of the members of a Mexican-American community catapulted into the national limelight by a gang rape at a cock fight. The town is San Diego, Texas, Ms. Garcia's own home town, and the event that triggers the scenes about the events as well as much older and equally painful memories, actually occurred in the 1980's.
Under Loretto Greco's capable direction the actors serve as narrators and, occasionally as movers of various props, as well as a cross section of citizens who recount their involvement with the crime and long dormant memories it dredges forth. The many portraits fill the emotionally rich canvas stretched out before us, include the victim and her husband, who have left the town (for Corpus Christie) but not the pain of the events. The husband's pain is as much about what happened to his wife as the loss of belonging to a familiar place and betrayal of friends (his first reaction to hearing the name of one of the rapists is "he just fixed my van!"). The actress who plays the wife also portrays a woman moved to a final break with her boyfriend by the rape and a sub-teen who in one of several telephone conversations with her best friends declares she will never get married "like Murphy Brown." The sheriff who investigates the case also metamorphoses into an amusing priest who prefers reading murder mysteries to listening to confessions, (in fact, he does often sneak in a chapter or two); a sly defense lawyer; and a dismal witness to the rape who, like several others, bears the scars of a miserable childhood.
Two of the most fascinating voices and versions of the truth we hear is that of a ninety-year old woman and the painter Georgia O'Keeffe. The old woman sees men who can commit painful crimes as stunted as a result of being born under anasthesia and thus unable to identify with pain. To her the victim has been robbed of her soul and is thus dead even though she has survived the rape. Juxtaposed with this dark vision, are the old woman's imagined conversations with Georgia O'Keeffe whom she knew when she was a young painter. This juxtaposition of a cruelty with the lyrical relationship between this woman and O'Keeffe is the playwright's device for lifting her play above melodrama and to an examination of the larger truth that danger and beauty often do co-exist.
The presence of the famous painter who loved the Southwest and who once compared the Texas sky to a large ocean, very much informs the spare but immenely evocative set by Christine Jones. The three-dimensional backdrop of a vast pale blue sky looks like a painting on wood until one of the charaters actually enters it. The raised platform on which the tale unfolds, is surrounded by an effectively used pebbled walk.
One quibble with the otherwise fine direction is with the scene where two of the characters light cigarettes which, in a space as small as the Intar's, creates several minute of real second-hand smoke. In a play that engages the audience so thoroughly that the many transitions by the small cast are virtually seamless, it seems to me that the audience could also be trusted to imagine an unlit cigarette to be lit.