Rites of Passage

Passage has its flaws. The overlapping narratives tend to blur, making it difficult to keep the characters straight (five of the seven actors undertake more than one role) and to tell where they are situated (in New York City? Miami? Havana?). And several of the characters beg for deeper development. Still, the unpolished, almost tumultuous multimedia approach, along with the passionate performances, lends the production an urgency as raw and compelling as the stories themselves.

After a lively series of preseason events designed to raise money for its new theater, 3rd Street Black Box in downtown Miami opened an honest-to-goodness season recently with Israel Horovitz's Line. First the good news: Ralph de la Portilla, Jean-Paul Mulero, Marlene Marcos, Todd Allen Durkin, and Matt Glass all prove to be convincing actors and able comics in this one-act comedy about how standing in line brings out the beast in all of us. Director Wayne E. Robinson, Jr., appreciates the importance of timing and the pleasures of a great sight gag (Glass looks priceless as the quintessential dweeb husband in a too-small oatmeal-color suit, oversize brown shoes, and thick tortoise-shell glasses). Fight choreographer Ron Headrick stages authentic skirmishes. And scenic designers Jennifer Smith and Faisal Hasan create an effective, minimalist set that consists of a black floor and a gray back wall subtly painted with the silhouettes of people waiting in line.

Now, here comes the bad news: The talented 3rd Street troupe has chosen a vile script for its first official production. The prolific Horovitz has written bad plays (1976's The Primary English Class), sweet plays (1987's Park Your Car in Harvard Yard), and powerful plays (1990's Strong Man's Weak Child). Line falls into the bad category -- in fact, very bad, as in dated and sexist.

Line posits an interesting premise: Five characters waiting in line for an unnamed event wrangle for first place in an increasingly primitive and broadly comic manner. Ostensibly it's a social critique that uses black humor to explore the pitfalls of competition. But Horovitz's adolescent writing, coupled with Robinson's overstated direction, render the work more like a Three Stooges episode than an absurdist version of Lord of the Flies. Particularly unpleasant is Horovitz's depiction of Molly, the lone woman character, who uses her sexual wiles to advance in line while repeatedly enduring being called a bitch or, in an imaginative variation, a fat bitch. Oh: Molly is raped by each of the men while the others look on. Okay, we don't actually see the rapes; they're handled through the visual euphemism of Molly wiggling around and tangoing with each of the men, but the dialogue makes the action clear. And the fact that Molly insists she wanted to have sex with each man (except her poor neglected husband, of course) is pure Horovitz fantasy.

Line premiered in New York City in 1967. Nine years later it opened at New York's 13th Street Repertory Company and has been playing there ever since. Which only proves once again that success and longevity have absolutely nothing to do with quality.

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