By Juan Barquin
By Ciara LaVelle
By George Martinez
By Kat Bein
By Ciara LaVelle
By Travis Cohen
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Monica McGivern
Remember Love, American Style? It was a lighthearted attempt at feminism and gender-bending, which somehow always ended up in bawdy, wide-angle shots of breasts and behinds and concluded in catty dialogues that took place in a huge, brass four-poster bed. As a youngster I tuned in for the opening shot of the fireworks and the big bed, which fascinated me because it often was on wheels and would be seen rolling down a street before the commercials. As a grownup leaving the EDGE/North's production of Antonio, I wondered if this weren't the new-millennium version of Love, American Style.
Thirty years after the fireworks, the waitress-goosing, and the use of words like whoopee for sex, we have Antonio, played by Julio Scardini, a Colombian prostitute turned model turned movie star. Opposite Antonio is the man who discovers him, artist Marshall Palladino (Chris Vicchiollo). Both are bisexual, and the EDGE/North heralds Jim Tommaney's play as the story of "two bisexual men and the women they love." Liz Dennis plays high-heeled, high-powered gallery owner Bianca Bell, and Andrea Davis takes the role of Angela Drysdale, a promiscuous (which still seems to translate to sexually liberated) movie star. There is an attraction between the two men, but Marshall won't explore it because it is against his principles to sleep with his models. The rest of the play is about their unrequited love for each other and their relationships with Bianca and Angela.
The old theme song went: "Love, American style, truer than the red, white, and blue. Love, American style, that's me and you." Perhaps the updated version might go: "Love, American style, that's me and you and you and that guy over there and this one and me, me, me." Each member of the cast makes his or her entrance announcing, "Hi. I'm the main character," highlighting the egoism of our culture and giving us the idea that we are going to see four very strongly defined characters. Knowing the intriguing topic of the play, we're ready for a piece of theater that deals boldly with whom we love and how we love in America in the year 2000. Amateurish acting and characters with unclear motives unfortunately prevent us from getting close enough to learn anything about this theme.
Antonio is based on a couple of premises about sex and success that the viewer has to accept to allow the play its raison d'être. For one we are supposed to believe Marshall is an up-and-coming, respected New York artist, but the unveiling of his portraits of Antonio reveals slick homoerotic images, comparable at best to Bruce Weber. Although Marshall makes some interesting statements throughout the play about being an artist, the actual photographs and paintings used as props (all of them done by local artists) are so commercial that they undermine the characterization of him as the quintessential true artist.
Two ongoing problems are the cluttered set, which includes three different living spaces on one stage, and too-frequent scene changes. What really mars this production, however, is unconvincing acting, especially and unfortunately on the part of Scardini. When Marshall first photographs Antonio, he tells him (rather cheesily): "Give me some attitude. I want to see attitude." Scardini's portrayal of emotions such as rage and joy is so cardboard-cutout it almost seems like cartoon animation. An optimist might think, Maybe he's making a parody of his own character. That would be refreshing, but alas, he truly is "modeling." How can someone who has the emotional depth of a Disney character convince us he is the next Rudolph Valentino? Scardini has the dark hair and smoldering eyes of a matinee idol, but his stage presence is nonexistent.
It is a painful thing to watch an actor trying to be natural and not succeeding. Scardini's Antonio loses his concentration and his voice trails off. The personality he has scraped up for Antonio is what might be called "good natured" -- not likely for a gay man who has escaped from Colombia, one of the most violent nations in this hemisphere, and who is now hustling in Manhattan and living in Brooklyn. When he is seducing Angela, he is good natured. When he is trying to seduce Marshall, he is good natured. Whether his lines are "Your mother's a whore" or "In Colombia we were poor, but we had the respect of a community," he uses the same tone. Nothing in his voice or movements changes with different situations; there is no gesture particular to his character, no special way of doing things. A small but telling example: When he kneels down to pray, he does it in the most inauthentic way. He sounds as if he could be a little boy in Iowa saying, "Now I lay me down to sleep." Catholics do not pray like Protestants, and not all Latin-American Catholics pray alike. Colombians, as it happens, have a very detailed way of crossing themselves -- they cross each shoulder, the forehead, the center of the chest. This sort of detail helps make a character believable, and in an area with South Florida's Latino population, the research should be easy.