Verging on Disaster
The good news here is Guillermo Reyes is a major voice in Hispanic and gay theater, and his 1994 comedy Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown is nothing short of brilliant. The really bad news, however, is that the amateur show of the same name that EDGE/Theatre is presenting at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens doesn't do the playwright or his potential audience any favors. It is an incompetently directed, slow, and dull affair with a cast that -- with one exception -- is simply not up to the demands of the script.
The play is rich: a suite of short scenes for an irresistible array of characters that includes everything from a hopeful young immigrant selling oranges off the freeway and an aging Colombian kept-boy about to be replaced by a fresh-faced farm boy from the Midwest, to an older Cuban restaurateur attempting to cook yuca in Arizona as he tries to forget the time he spent in one of Fidel Castro's concentration camps for gays before he left the island during the Mariel exodus. There is a Hollywood actor who has disguised his accent and heritage so well he can't get any Hispanic roles. There is a positively mad, manic teacher of English as a second language, ranting obscenely at students who cannot understand a word he says. There is a nice-looking young man who seems to have a knack for murdering roommates. Then there is a pathetic drag queen, dying of AIDS, giving her last show. The writing rings true throughout, and the comedy is both savage and genuinely funny. Best of all, Men on the Verge ought to be a theatrical feast, a tour de force for a single actor who should change into each of Reyes's characters in a heartbeat. This play should move fast and pack quite a punch.
Instead, and perversely, Jim Tommaney's production in Miami Beach distributes the roles among four different actors, only one of whom is any good. There are endless pauses between scenes, made even longer by Tommaney as he moves the meager props himself, needlessly, in a sort of slo-mo mime that unintentionally recalls the old Tim Conway skits in The Carol Burnett Show. Any hope of momentum is gone. The less said about most of the cast the better. Scene after wasted scene goes by and cries out for direction, technique, voice, presence, or just some semblance of professionalism. At their best, the skits come off like barely prepared auditions. Acting this bad is seldom seen outside tacky Southern drag shows.
The one exception is Andrio Chavarro, and one hopes to see this young actor again in better conditions. As it was, Chavarro played the continuing character of Federico, a disarmingly young arrival who eventually finds true love, a green card, and even a family. The shame is that it ought to take only one actor to pull off Reyes's play, and that -- if left alone -- Chavarro might have made a good case for all of Reyes's men. Play and playwright alike deserve to be better known, and I hope this disaster won't discourage other troupes from looking into Guillermo Reyes and his work.
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