This production is proof that first impressions are not all they're cracked up to be. After an endless opening scene that appears to promise a heavy-handed evening attempting to be avant-garde, the performance evolves into a subtle, very human, moving experience.
"Guinea Pig Solo," written by Brett C. Leonard and directed by Ian Belton, is based on the German work "Woyzeck" by Georg Büchner, in which an indifferent doctor experiments on a soldier. In this modern version, José Solo (John Ortiz) is a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. At first, his internal agony is displayed through a frenzy of physical activity and nonstop monologue that becomes a mere gymnastic display.
But little by little Solo's suffering -- and the parallel suffering of his estranged wife, Vivian (Judy Reyes), and his son, Junior (Alexander Flores) -- becomes intensely real. While we know Solo is haunted by his wartime experiences and has exhibited difficult behavior, it seems a mystery at first as to why the loving spouses remain apart. Reyes and Flores are excellent at portraying -- in different ways -- a low-key, numb unhappiness. Vivian's conflicted feelings about beginning a new relationship with a police officer (Stephen Adly Guirgis) are very believable. So is Solo's desperation at being unable to reach his psychiatrist (Robert Glaudini) -- attentive while conducting experiments -- during a crisis. The agony and mystery of the spouses' separation is revealed and strongly conveyed in the end.
Excellent performances are turned in by Jason Manuel Olazábal as Solo's understanding buddy, Richard Petrocelli as a Vietnam-veteran cop who tries to reach out to Solo, Portia as Vivian's friend and the doctor's receptionist, and Guirgis. Kim Director plays a character, a zoo guide and quasi-narrator, whose purpose is unclear. The play vividly brings the story into Puerto Rican New York without losing the characters' universality.