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San Francisco by Richard Connema

13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera is Part Shocking Drama, part Wizard of Oz, Part Angels in America

Also see Richard's review of A Mother

13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera
Rudy Guerrero and Sara White
New York playwright Chris Smith's 13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera is having its world premiere at the Magic. This shocking drama, based on the real case of a gay bashing in Queens in 1990, is part of the Hot House repertory series that plays through June 30. The drama veers away from a straightforward account of the beating of this gay Hispanic male, becoming a gay fantasy that involves illusions of Julio as he lies dying in a pool of blood in the schoolyard of P.S. 69 at night.

Julio Rivera's (Rudy Guerrero) hallucinations become part Wizard of Oz, with Dorothy (Sara White) arriving on the small stage, apparently lost. Julio's best friend Alan (John Patrick Moore) finds him and runs to a telephone to call 911. While waiting, little Dorothy with the ruby red shoes comes by and tells him that the Wizard promised that if she clicked her red shoes she would be back in Kansas and she ended up in the school yard of P.S. 69. Dorothy says the Wizard is a dirty old man; in fact, everyone in Oz, including those Munchkins, always had their hands under her dress.

Julio has a lot of hallucinations that evolve Madonna, the Virgin Mary dressed liked a bag lady, Jessie Helms and Felony Joyride, an ostentatious and trashy drag queen played wonderfully by Joe Mandragona. There is a rather long and dull scene of a nerdy scientist (David Ryan Smith) who "screens" a porn flick called Schoolyard Gang-Bang that is simulated live by the three skinheads who had beaten Julio. In this "flick," Julio apparently is enjoying the sexual session. The scientist drones on and on about homosexuals to the point that one of skinheaded actors says "This is boring."

13 Hallucinations has songs that are almost Broadway style, especially at the end of the last scene when the cast sings a paean to Julio one year after his death. Julio says "God, they made a musical on my death." Some of the dialogue is stilted and the playwright attempts to use metaphors and fictitious language. He tries the language that was brilliant in Tony Kushner's Angels in America, but he does not succeed. The scene of the dual Madonnas also seems lost. The actual killing of Julio is shown several times during the 2 hour one intermission performance. One of the killing scenes becomes a tango with the three skinheads taking turns dancing with Julio.

Rudy Guerrero (Don Juan, Merry Wives of Windsor at Marin Shakespeare, lead in Pal Joey at Marin Theatre and A Question of Mercy at the Magic) is excellent as the doomed Julio. He gives a warm and appealing performance. He is particularly good when he does not realize he is dying and steps out of character to almost mess up the big first act closing number. Ian Scott McGregor as the ego-driven singer playing an activist is wonderful in this scene.

Callum Keith-King's performance as Jessie Helms goes way over the top. He becomes too much a caricature rather than a human. His performance smacks of some of the old burlesque comics who would imitate southern redneck senators. However, King is excellent as one of Julio's tricks who's a body builder. Catherine Castellanos is very good as Julio's mother and the Virgin Mary. Sara White does an about face, playing first the innocent Dorothy and then the sexy and sensual Madonna. Others members of the cast, David Ryan Smith and Joseph Estlack, give good account of themselves in various roles.

New York composer William Whitefield has written several songs for this production. The best is a camp on the big choral work in Urinetown with some inane lyrics about the death of Julio. Klahr Thorsen's choreography of the tango dance is very good and it makes the gay bashing scene almost something out of West Side Story. Director Jimmy Bohr gets the best from his actors and the scenes are smoothly presented. Sets by Jeff Rowlings are simple and efficient with chain link fences becoming an important unit in many of the scenes.

13 Hallucinations needs a lot of pruning if it is to be a successful Off Broadway play. Some of the scenes could be eliminated and it would make a smashing one act 90 minute play. The play is in repertory with Drifting Elegant and Relativity [reviewed here]. The three plays run through June 30. For a schedule, please go to www.magictheatre.org or call 415-441-8822 for more information.


Photo: Bill Faulkner


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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