Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Latin Theater Company at Los Angeles Theater Center
Through April 9
A cruise ship is a metaphor for the world in microcosm. All classes and strata of society live together within the boundaries of the little tin ship, which is surrounded by the nothingness of the great sea. On the top levels live the pampered super-rich, in palatial splendor, in grand cabins where their every wish is catered to. Further down is the crew, who are treated as chattel and live in the “slum” areas of the crew quarters.
Jonathan Ceniceroz’s intermittently amusing piece is an attempt to satirize the great gulf that makes up the class divide. It’s a provocative idea, but it’s executed in a haphazard fashion, with a choppy storyline which keeps its themes unclear. Is this a shrewd satire or a sex frolic, rather like the time-honored and rather stale shipboard romance? At times, both Ceniceroz and director Heath Cullens seem unsure what kind of story they’re trying to tell.
Young gay aspiring writer James Garcia (Kenneth Lopez), who lives in New York, is invited to join his estranged dad Ramon (Ric Salinas) on a Caribbean cruise liner. Ramon, a rascally con man, has scored a job as the ship’s “enrichment lecturer” or ship’s scholar. As the liner cruises, he is expected to deliver lectures on the native tribes of the Caribbean, which amuses James, who is sure his dad knows nothing about what he’s talking about.
Ramon, meanwhile, wants to use the cruise to bond with his son — but it turns out that James’s status as an “outsider” on the ship allows him to make friends with wealthy couple, Judith (Carolyn Almos) and Howard (Gary Lamb), who own a trucking company. Meanwhile, the sexually ambivalent Ramon discovers to his dismay that the ship’s cruise director is none other than his long ago lover Boyd (Brian Wallace), who knows Ramon is a grafter and a scammer.
The atmosphere of life aboard a cruise ship is nicely evoked in Cullens’ relaxed yet quick paced production. The performances are likable and engaging, particularly Lopez as James and Almos as a clueless privileged cruise guest. Salinas is also winning as the quirky borderline sociopathic dad.
That said, Ceniceroz’s play suffers from an irresolute tone; its attempt to meld biting social commentary with romantic farce produces awkward results. The prosaic and sometimes meandering dialogue is too humdrum to bring off the comic elements of the plot, which often fall flat – it sometimes plays like an episode of The Love Boat as written by Karl Marx. The script could also use another draft to soften up inconsistencies in the characters: Everyone here commendably boasts positive and negative traits, but the writing never sufficiently fuse them into a whole so we’re put off by the characters’ flaws instead of responding to them with compassion.
Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St, Los Angeles; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through April 9. (866) 811-4111 or http://latc.org. Running time: two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission.