Boleros for the Disenchanted
Rivera has been well represented in Connecticut as his work has graced Hartford Stage during previous years. Marisol, for example, was memorable. Twice the recipient of an OBIE award, he also received a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for The Motorcycle Diaries. Rivera writes with heart and mind as he takes the viewer to his native Puerto Rico.
Designer Linda Buchanan presents a floral, blue-hue setting as Boleros begins in rural, tropical Puerto Rico; it is 1953. Flora (Sona Tatoyan) learns that her husband-in-waiting, Manuelo (Felix Solis), is carrying on with another woman. Flora's mother (Adriana Sevan) communicates the news. Don Fermin (Gary Perez), Flora's father, is drunk and wildly animated for much of the early going. Manuelo appears and Flora, who has saved herself for him, is confrontational. But, Manuelo simply explains, more or less, men are men and infidelity is part of that package. "A man must sin," he says. Flora decides not to marry the rogue. Instead, she goes to a nearby town where her quite-contemporary cousin Petra (Lucia Brawley) lives. There, Flora meets military-uniformed Eusebio (Joe Minoso), a solid individual. Sooner, rather than later, these two will wed. Just before intermission, Eusebio announces that he is taking his bride to the United States – and this does not particularly thrill her parents.
The second act begins nearly four decades later in Daleville, Alabama, where Eusebio (now played by Perez) is restricted to a hospital bed as he watches a New York Mets baseball game on television in the confines of his dreary home. He is attended by Flora (Sevan). Gradually, theatergoers get a sense of the thirty-nine year marriage. Flora, hoping to be helpful, provides advice for young people who are contemplating their own relationship. At her invitation, Oskar (Minoso) and Monica (Brawley) come to meet the volatile Eusebio. A social/clinical/health counselor (Tatoyan) tries to assist with the temperamental Eusebio. Finally, a thoughtful, candid priest (Solis) comes on the scene to offer last rites.
The exposition during act one of Boleros effectively sets up a wonderfully charged, emotive, even transformative second segment. Still, the beginning portion of Rivera's script is recognizable and familiar. Gustavo Leone's lyrical musical instrumental plays, Buchanan's scenic touch (through exterior walls and flooring) evokes mood and tone. Director Henry Godinez, working with six excellent performers, moves the play along. The opening is fine but not yet exceptional theater.
That all changes with the advent of the second act. The multiple-cast actors demonstrate versatility and complete grasp of the craft. Sevan and Perez, playing Flora and Eusebio, are most believable. They might as well have lived together forever. They evidence frustration, anger, and, finally, love. Whoever (either Rivera or Godinez or both) chose to utilize different actors rather than the initial ones having aged should receive significant applause.
During the first act, no one would imagine that Rivera, thematically, would ultimately address the crucial life versus death decision one might face as he approaches that end moment. There isn't a hint of foreshadow. The play's developmental evolution is both rapid and credible. That it feels genuine begins with Rivera's scripting. The playwright provides layer upon layer and added dimension. Yes, there is an occasional comic exchange during the first thirty minutes of the show. The painful and inescapable reality rendered toward the final curtain is undeniably fervent. Boleros for the Disenchanted feels fresh, distinctive, and singular during its acute, passionate and enduring conclusion.
Boleros for the Disenchantedcontinues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through May 17th. For ticket and schedule information, call (203) 432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.
- Fred Sokol