Zoetrope, Part 1
Review by Neal Weaver
Caborca Theatre (NYC) Los Angeles Theatre Center
Through Nov. 8
This play, written and directed by Javier Antonio Gonzalez, and presented as part of the Encuentro 2014 Festival, is set on a more or less bare stage, with two colorful grids painted on the floor. On the back wall and in the wings hang a multitude of costumes, and several table lamps are arranged on the floor around the periphery. At a table upstage, two actors sit, during most of the action. And at center-stage is a live-feed video camera, which is mostly focused on the actors, providing close-ups as well as long-shots. As the piece gets underway, a priest is presiding over the marriage of Severino and Inez. (Marcos Toledo and Laura Butler Rivera, respectively)
We see Severino and Inez on what is presumably their wedding night, as they disrobe and change into nightclothes. Meanwhile, we’re also introduced to another girl, who is pregnant but unmarried. We see conversations between Inez and her sister, in which Inez accuses the sister of being jealous of her married state, and talks about the importance of promoting independent nationhood for Puerto Rico. Apparently they then move to New York City, and a seductress comes along and seduces Severino, who succumbs readily to her wiles. We’re treated to a nude love scene between Severino and the seductress (Veraalba Santa). There’s no indication of where Inez is during this. We see her conducting an English class, in which she is lecturing a class of seemingly Latino kids about Edgar Allen Poe’s Annabelle Leigh. Somewhere along the way we learn that Severino was a mail-clerk during World War II.
In one of the few conventional scenes, Severino tells us he is a pussy, and there’s no evidence to the contrary. Eventually Severino dies, and is laid out, treated as a hero, and draped in an American flag. And throughout, Spanish super-titles are projected onto the back wall at Center. (In Spanish language performances, English supertitles are used.) At the end, all the characters exit except the woman at the upstage table. She proceeds to dip a roller in white paint and paint an American flag white. She then exits.
We don’t ordinarily think of the importance of sheer information in constructing a play, but the lack of it here is crippling. The program tells us the action occurs in Lares, Puerto Rico and New York City in 1951-52. But we’re given few clues as to where we are or when. During all the action, the offstage actors are visible as they disrobe and put on different costumes, which proves decidedly distracting. And it’s difficult to avoid being caught up in the prominently placed supertitles. We aren’t given enough facts to feel sympathetic or otherwise toward the characters. Even the meaning of the title goes unexplained. And, generally speaking, confusion reigns. Program notes suggest that Gonzalez has constructed an elaborate plot, but we’re given too few clues to figure it out.
In the final analysis, the piece seems like a deliberately (or inadvertently) confusing exercise in mystification and obfuscation. Gonzalez may have an interesting and significant story to tell, but he hasn’t given us the tools to understand it.
Caborca Theatre at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Dwntwn.; Thurs., Nov. 6, 8:30 p.m.; and Sat., Nov. 8, 4 p.m. (866) 811-4111, www.thelatc.org/upcoming-shows/zoetrope-part-1/