Ten Percent of Marta Solano
Those questions lie at the heart of Ten Percent of Marta Solano, now playing in two productions at the Mixed Blood Theatre. Despite the heavy questions at the core of Richard Strand’s play, it is also quite funny. Think of it being like a Pinter play, without the pauses and a somewhat sunnier outlook on life.
The show is being presented in both English and Spanish, with different performers in the key roles. While I can’t speak to the Spanish-language version, the English production is full of wit and pathos, with great chemistry between the two leads that made the absurdity of the play seem real.
It helps that Strand starts it all in a familiar bureaucratic hell – the DMV. Here is where we first meet Marta, a headstrong and confident artist who wants nothing more than to have her driver’s license reflect her correct address. She runs into a brick wall, via the know-it-all middle-aged bureaucrat who suggests that the easiest solution would be to move to the new address. Solano sticks to her guns, and the paperwork is filled out for a new license.
This simple act cascades. Instead of a new license, Solano is declared dead. Her obit runs in the paper, her bank forecloses on her mortgage, and her agent refuses to release any of her money. At each stop, she is tormented by the same grey middle-aged man, taking on different guises but the same soul underneath. Through it all, Solano is never crushed, even when she finds herself on death row, about to be executed by her longtime tormentor.
Her strength is what makes Ten Percent of Marta Solano tick. Without it, the evening would just be a slog through red tape. Familiar, yes, but not necessarily a fun way to spend an hour and a half. Instead, there is always the sense that Solano will triumph over it all – mainly because she never, ever loses sight of who she is, no matter the confusion that rages around her.
Claudia Vazquez leaves Marta’s basic belief in her self near the top of her character. She is always polite in the face of adversity, but also seems ready to roll with the punches. Mainly, you sense that Marta’s main goal is to get her life back on track, and always believes that the next step in her journey will be the one that finally frees her of the madness.
Mark Sieve plays her nemesis with pure gusto. Sieve is best known in the Twin Cities for his decades as one-half of “Puke and Snot,” a comedy duo that is a top draw at the annual Minnesota Renaissance Festival. With his sharp-as-a-rapier sense of timing and ability to inhabit his diverse characters (including Solano’s mother and a 75-year-old African American who also happens to be the president of the United States of America) makes him the perfect complement to Vazquez’s “straight man.”
In the end, Strand doesn’t answer all of his questions – no writer could – but he has crafted a play that is instantly immediate and true, but also filled with the exaggeration that makes up so much great comedy. This gives director Mark Valdez a great tapestry with which to work. Add in a pair of strong performances and fine work backstage (including a fabulous set by Richard Borgen) and you have a show that proves you can find something worthwhile in a trip to the DMV.
Ten Percent of Marta Solano runs through May 14 at the Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Minneapolis. Remaining Spanish performance is May 14. For more information or tickets, call 612-338-6131 or visit www.mixedblood.com.