Waxing West

Waxing West is a unique take on the immigrant experience -- specifically a Romanian woman's struggle to adapt to an American world. Playwright Saviana Stanescu has created a world gone awry, in which time lurches sideways and nightmares dominate reality.

Daniela, a 31-year-old cosmetologist, comes to the United States to marry a man she has never met. The match has been arranged by their mothers, and both Daniela and the prospective groom approach the marriage with reluctance and uncertainty. The future bride is further haunted by two menacing figures: the former Romanian dictator Ceaucescu and his wife, Elena. The couple, now vampires, serves as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the heroine's state of mind -- her fears, doubts, and confusions. (The symbolism of this bloodsucking pair is not lost on anyone familiar with recent Romanian history.)

Stanescu has created a nonlinear piece, taking great liberties with the time frame, and she draws no boundaries between the living and the dead. Still, despite its offbeat format, the story moves forward clearly, and family scenes are lifted from the real world. Stanescu has a gift for creating all-too-believable exchanges among the mother, son, and daughter in Bucharest and between the brother and sister in New York. Such scenes are funny, sharp, and often heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, director Benjamin Mosse's production fails to measure up to the material. A feverish quality pervades, as too often the actors shout their lines and create a one-note level of hysteria. This is particularly true of Marnye Young as Daniela. Though her intensity and energy are effective, her performance would benefit from a more varied delivery. Yet this is a gifted cast of performers, in particular Elizabeth Atkeson as the sly American sister, Grant Neale and Alexis McGuinness as the creepy vampires, Dan Shaked as the sullen Romanian son, and the deliciously comic Kathryn Kates as the Romanian mother.

Presented by La MaMa E.T.C. in association with East Coast Artists and the Romanian Cultural Institute

at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A E. Fourth St., NYC.

April 5-22. Thu.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.

(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or (212) 475-7710 or www.theatermania.com or www.lamama.org.