New Rep on the Block

Although it operates as something of a parody of Tony Kushner's Angels in America and something of a catholicized take on the lawless urban landscape portrayed in the Ridley Scott movie Blade Runner, Rivera's violent vision of absurdist modern life remains very much his own. Feminism, outrage at the conditions under which poor people live, a critique of yuppie culture, and the condemnation of immigrant assimilation -- all of these elements inform his attempts to make sense of the senselessness we live with each day. Intriguing, unnerving, and wickedly ironic at its best moments, this ambitious drama is illuminated by director Jorge Guerra's salient staging and some excellent performances. But Rivera's kitchen-sink approach blurs his play's focus. He falls prey to the chaos he imagines, and lets go of the narrative reins. The result A an unwieldy act two, formless despite Guerra's discerning direction, and filled with hysterical speeches that obscure Rivera's language and his intent, if one exists.

Ultimately the play left me with mere impressions rather than conveying a coherent whole (not to be confused with a logical whole A good drama need not be logical, or realistic, but it does need to have a semblance of shape). And those impressions merit mentioning: Marisol and a young woman (Karin Zoeller) sitting side by side on regular chairs in the play's opening scene, eliciting the claustrophobia and spastic jerking of a New York subway ride; the guardian angel's visit to Marisol, a tightly choreographed episode passionately enacted by Randolph and Espinosa, which has the feel of a fever dream; Cynthia Caquelin (Faith Healer's Grace) as a society matron on a rampage, calling street people credit risks; David Kwiat, in a 180-degree turn from his role in Faith Healer, as Lenny, whose sinister mania conjured for me the perverse image of Dustin Hoffman's autistic Rain Man character on steroids; and a moving, revelatory performance by Chaz Mena as the Man With Scar Tissue, a homeless person burned by skinheads. Mena brings remarkable humanity to this character, who could be the invisible, disenfranchised street person many of us pass daily.

Guerra, New World Rep Company's artistic director, made an inspired decision in pairing the challenging Marisol with the far more subtle Faith Healer for the company's debut. The cultural backgrounds of the dramas contrast cleverly; the unique demands of each production showcase the company's formidable range of talent; casting some of the same actors in each show highlights that range even further. New World Rep promises to be an awesome addition to South Florida's professional theater scene.

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