Reviewed by Michael Lazan
Presented by New York City Players at the Present Company Theatorium, 196-198 Stanton St., NYC, Sept. 6-30.
Writer-director Richard Maxwell represents a sharp rejoinder to the emotive bent of so much modern theatre. His actors do not smile, cry, or yell; they do not gesticulate wildly or strain for laughs; they do not milk a dramatic pause. Refreshingly, though also sometimes maddeningly, these actors deliver utterly spare dialogue in so robotic and ironic a fashion that you cannot help but watch them with interest. It's rather like listening to a series of weird subway conversations.
The story, such as it is, involves a young Hispanic man named Freddie who lives in a depressed urban tableau and pines for a young woman named Marissa. He proposes to Marissa, she turns him down, and then Freddie gets involved in a boxing match, which he ultimately wins. There is also a promoter, who is called Promoter, and Freddie's brother, Jo-Jo, who urges his brother on throughout the proceedings.
What makes this work, at least to an extent, is that Maxwell is able to capture some of the language of real people and convey a surprising amount of emotion. His actors' deadened expressions reflect the real life desperation of the laboring class; we empathize with these people and hope for them to succeed, even if we don't really know that much about them.
What the piece is really about, though, is style. From the very simple but grim look of the costumes, to the startling image of a huge boxing ring, Maxwell's instinct to disrupt is uncanny. His actors help him along, seeming quite like real people who happened onto the stage by mistake. In particular, Robert Torres, as Freddie, anchors the piece with an expression that is especially wan and hopeless. Gladys Pflrez, as Marissa, is a perfect match for Torres, especially during a dance sequence in which the glum pair circle each other slowly, like wild animals in a mating ritual. Stephanie Nelson's set, empty except for a corrugated metal door, which ultimately reveals the rather elaborate and real-looking boxing ring, fits the material perfectly.