Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Boleros for the Disenchanted": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG baub

"There's a Place for Us, a Time and Place for Us, Take My Hand and..."

No, wait. This isn't West Side Story, it's Jose Rivera's "Boleros for the Disenchanted," though for anyone over the age of forty it will be difficult not to see and hear Natalie Wood as Maria when innocent young Lela Loren takes the stage as Flora in Act One. She is so sweet, so white nightgown-y and vulnerable, and so naturally she drives poor Manuelo (Dion Mucciacito) crazy. All he wants to do is marry her and father her children, so he can then go run around with whores and other women whom he will not love.

"Sex and love are different," he wails to Flora, but she's not buying it. "Can you just go into a store and buy a diamond?" she asks him. "No. You have to have money. You have to earn that money. You have to wait."

Brokenhearted, Flora breaks off her engagement and travels to visit her cousin Rita Moreno, no, wait, we mean Petra (played by the spirited Michele Vazquez), in the city of Santurce.

Along comes Eusebio, a young National Guardsman, and he is smitten by Flora. He comes to meet her parents, and they are married and that's that. Right?

No, senor. That is simply the end of Act One. One turns to one's neighbor in the audience and says: "This is fabulous. I can't wait to see what happens!"

Despair is what happens. In Act Two forty years have passed and the playwright's message becomes clearer: Manuelo was right. Men are loveable dogs but they're still dogs. Women have difficult lives but fortunately they are saints. True love endures, if the dog loses his legs. In America anything is possible, except for happiness.

"Boleros" is witty, beautifully acted and staged and if Act Two were set, say, at a rumble between Sharks and Jets, or in a bridal shop, or better yet if there were any measure of hope or redemption offered to us, Rivera would have written a memorable homage to love in difficult circumstances. But Act Two takes place in a military apartment with a hospital bed and a man with no legs lying in it. The heart does not easily soar like an eagle in this setting.

Act Two does have one memorable scene as Eusebio (now played, as an older man, by Robert Beltran, who steals Act Two as he did Act One as Flora's father Don Fermin) insists on confessing his sins to the local priest (now played by Drew Cortese, who was the young Eusebio in Act One). As Rickie Ricardo once said, he should'na did it. Flora (the fabulous Rachel Ticotin who was Flora's mother in Act One) is present and now hears what her husband has been hiding from her for all these years. She becomes furious at him -- but heck, it's OK, because he has a stroke and, remember, she is a saint.

Ai, yai, yai. 'Boleros' is so good but where does it take us? What did we learn? How did we grow?

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Boleros for the Disenchanted" Three Stars with a BANGLE of Praise and a bauble of despair. Robert Beltran and Rachel Ticotin, especially, are engaging and get most of the good lines. Act One is like a fast-moving soap opera, leaving us hopeful for the future. Sandra Woodall's flouncy dresses for the young Flora and Petra are perfect, and Nancy Schertler's lights are stunning. In fact, the BANGLE of PRAISE is for Schertler's ending sequence, as the symbolic lights of the houses from the old village in Puerto Rico are flown back in as the young Eusebio and Flora ponder their futures. The bauble of despair is a woulda-shoulda: this is a story with 'boleros' in the title, yet music is so sparsely utilized. Where did it go in Act Two? They missed a big chance here.

"Boleros for the Disenchanted"
A.C.T. Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through May 31

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