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Criminal:
A Short Tragedy about a Counter-transferential Transference

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The play's full title is Criminal: A Short Tragedy about a Counter-transferential Transference, but it shall hereafter be referred to simply as Criminal so that the title may better reflect the play itself: Short, sweet, to the point, and leaving you wanting more.

The production of Criminal currently gracing the Midtown International Theatre Festival is the show's United States and English language premiere, after playing to great acclaim in Argentina. Javier Daulte's play, which has been translated by Rodrigo Cameron, is a bitterly comic tragedy in which nothing is as it appears, even after (or especially after) it's been completely revealed. The play is a complex, exciting piece running a packed 50 minutes and, as the title suggests, dealing heavily with psychotherapy. Two of the play's characters are doctors, two are their patients, and all four are inextricably linked in a web of deceit, violence, love, and sex.

The two patients, Diana (Nicole Halmos) and Carlos (Pablo Ribot) are experiencing great turmoil in their relationship and naturally turn to their therapists for help in dealing with it. Carlos's therapist, played by Ralph Pochoda is intent on controlling his patient (or, as he says, "customer") with drugs, while Diana's therapist Juan (also Cameron) is more conventional, trying to solve Diana's problems by listening to her and giving her a chance to vent.

Occasionally this involves the process of transference, or allowing Diana to refer to him as if he is Carlos, which has a tendency to confuse Diana's already tender emotions, and, as the play develops, it becomes clear that she has developed feelings for him, which he may or may not be consciously reciprocating. Through all this, he becomes concerned that he has endangered not just Diana and Carlos's relationship, but quite possibly their lives.

Gwynn MacDonald's direction is smooth, allowing the action to move seamlessly between the two therapist's offices, and allowing the doctors and patients to communicate with each other through the fabric of space and perception. (Diana, for example, occasionally appears to be talking to Carlos when she is really speaking to Juan.) It's to her great credit that, in her hands, the play not only refuses to alienate those not familiar with the more technical therapy terms but also is easy to follow, understand, and become enraptured by. Cameron's translation is so fine and clear, it may as well have been written in English originally.

Of course, Jonathon Fuchs's lighting design is instrumental in creating the visual effects that assist MacDonald in clarifying all this, but MacDonald's focused work on the staging and the actors' performances do just the trick anyway. Ribot finds a wealth of edgy comedy in his role, while Halmos's reticent and quietly seductive Diana makes a good intellectual and emotional match for him. Pochoda and Cameron complement each other strikingly as well, Cameron's relative youth and enthusiasm balancing the more mature and experienced Pochoda, creating a battle of therapeutic ideologies from which only one will emerge the victor.

Still, it's the audience that comes out ahead when all the story's threads have been dealt with - tied up or unraveled, your choice. And if America's obsession with therapy has cooled a bit in the last several years, it's a shame, as that's the only thing remotely likely to dull Criminal's reception in this country as the fierce, funny, and thought-provoking play it is.

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Fourth Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
Criminal: A Short Tragedy about a Counter-transferential Transference
Through August 2
Abingdon Theater Arts Complex, 312 West 36th Street
Schedule and Tickets: 212.279.4200