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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
by Laura Hitchcock

John Horn, Jack Kehler, Barry Del Sherman, Christine Marie Burke
Left to right: John Horn, Jack Kehler, Barry Del Sherman, Christine Marie Burke
(Photo: David Weininger )
Wilfredo demonstrates brilliantly that a play can be non-linear, non-plot oriented and packed full of meaning, color, fascination and dramatic coherency if it's written and directed by Wesley Walker. The world premiere is the second 2002 season production for Padua Playwrights Productions, continuing their mandate of experimental theatre.

If you step into a best-forgotten bar in Tijuana some surreal afternoon, you'll be greeted by the imperious bartender Wilfredo who tells you how to pronounce his name and what to drink in the manner of an Aztec priest granting an audience. He particularly wants you to appreciate his bueno, in this case, symbolized by two rare gold coins.

Wilfred's visitors include Tanner, a steely-eyed businessman from Malibu, who spends a large part of the play throwing up Wilfred's semen-scented tequila in the john; Esther, a pudgy middle-aged beauty who may be a mother figure siren to the visitors or a granddaughter to the ageless Wilfredo; Rutlege, another Norteamericano seeker of truth or a wife who looks just like his mother; Nester, Esther's husband and Wilfred's childhood friend, a hunk traumatized by Wilfred's inadvertent childhood injury to a bueno of his own (not noticeable in his nude scene); and Roberta, Wilfred's beautiful poignant barmaid who is obsessed with her two imaginary little girls.

These characters, all tormented in their own ways, writhe, sigh, and rage around the suave disdainful Wilfred. The playwright, however, is never disdainful. He has a warm sense of his characters' humanity and finds the humor in their baroque situations. The material is richly thematic but you can pick your themes. The production is so well done and so fascinating that the Padua mandate of playing that-which-is-hidden fits it like a snake's new skin.

A large part of the pleasure of Walker's skill is his epigrammatic style. Esther describes her marriage to Nestor: H"e was beautiful as a child is beautiful. It was like marrying the dawn." Or, in the words of another character: "You can never leave your mother because her love will follow you like the shark does or the moon."

The director has chosen his cast extremely well. John Horn is brilliant as Wilfredo, elegant, disdainful, a man of many incarnations and believable in all of them. George Gerdes gives weight to the complex Tanner, while Jack Kehler fumbles antithetically as the very different Rutlege. O-Lan Jones brings a sly sensuality, a maternal heft and a stolid Latino air to Esther. Barry Del Sherman is a handsome traumatized Nestor and Christine Marie Burke plays Roberta with touching simplicity and clarity.

Walker directs with cool precision and a stylization which fits the material. It's a play that could easily have gone over the top but Walker keeps it gracefully in your face, like some incomprehensible acquaintance at a bar in some foreign city whose difference is mesmerizing and strange because you are far from home and in the mood for discovery and surprise.

Playwright/Director: Wesley Walker
Cast: John Horn (Wilfredo), Christine Marine Burke (Roberta), George Gerdes (Tanner), O-Lan Jones (Esther), Jack Kehler (Rutlege), Barry Del Sherman (Nester).
Original Music and Music Reconstructions: Robert Oriol
Set Design: Jeffrey Atherton
Costume Design: Bridget Phillips
Producers: Guy Zimmerman and Daniel Lynch Millner
Running Time: Two hours. One intermission
2100 Square Feet, 5615 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. Phone: (323) 692-2652
May 4-June 8, 2002
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on May 4.
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