Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Blood and Water

Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Carole's review of Defying Gravity

Jeff Dolecek and Justin Estes
Photo by Russell Maynor
At first glance, Blood and Water, a new play by Albuquerque playwright Andy Mayo, looks like a Sam Shepard knock-off. It's even advertised as such on the Aux Dog Theatre website: "In the rock 'n roll style of Sam Shepard ..." If you're not a Sam Shepard fan, don't let that put you off. I enjoyed this play more than I ever enjoyed any Sam Shepard play that I have seen.

What might remind you of Shepard are a couple of the characters and the setting: Two asshole brothers who act very badly toward each other, both of whom hated their asshole old man; and the setting in the New Mexico desert. (Shepard lived for several years, off and on, in New Mexico.) In other respects, it's an original piece of work, well-plotted and, with only a few small exceptions, written with good, realistic dialogue.

You don't have to be from the Southwest to appreciate this play, but there is one plot point that might need explaining to those not familiar with the area: the importance of water and water rights in the desert. People in most of the country don't have to worry about where their water is coming from—it's not going to run out. But it's a different story in dry landscapes. The topic of water rights is a big deal in this part of the country and often a source of conflict between neighbors (and neighboring states). Water plays a significant role in the play—it's in the title, after all.

The setup of the play is that Sam and Art's old man, who is dead when the play starts, bought up a huge amount of land for pennies on the dollar at tax auctions when his neighbors went broke. Sam (the name is a coincidence, I'm sure, not an allusion to Sam Shepard) stays home on the ranch. Art, six years younger, goes off to college, moves to San Francisco, and makes a lot of money in leveraged buyouts and such. With seed money from Art, Sam starts a bottled water company, but drills down the aquifer so much that the neighbors' wells are going dry. Sam doesn't give a shit about them.

With the bottled water proceeds, Sam has built an enormous ranch house, upscale fixtures and all, but no furniture yet—maybe he is running out of money. Art and his wife Steffi, a fashion magazine editor, come to stay at the ranch for a few days. It's Steffi's first time here. She has only met Sam once, at their wedding, and he didn't behave well there. He never behaves well anywhere.

As soon as Art and Steffi walk in, the antagonism between the brothers is evident. What's behind it? Is it money, inheritance, or is there something else in their past that has set them against each other? That's the crux of the plot, and it's up to Steffi to uncover what's hidden. Tension builds gradually to a smashing conclusion, but it's not just a dysfunctional family drama. There are a lot of laughs to be had, too, and Andy Mayo and director Victoria J. Liberatori have found the right balance between the light and the heavy.

Jeff Dolecek is perfect as Sam. What's best about his performance is that he is almost sympathetic for his loneliness, stuck out there in the desert, but then he shows again what a slime-bucket he is and always has been. Justin Estes's performance as Art is less nuanced. He pretty much scowls through the entire first act and much of the second, although physically he looks the part of the rich urbanite who deigns to come back home to hicksville. A more duplicitous manner in the first act would have made his performance much more intriguing. What the heck is he up to with regard to his brother, we would be wondering.

Tristana Gonzalez is excellent at expressing the emotions of Steffi, a woman who has her perfectly put-together life pulled out from under her in a matter of a few days. George Ryan does well in the small role of a police officer.

The set, designed by VJ Liberatori, is just right for the story. Sound by Casey Mraz and costumes by Rhonda Backinoff are very good, but I do think the city slickers Art and Steffi would have brought a few more changes of clothes with them.

This play probably would have benefited from some workshopping or a series of previews, since there are a few plot elements that could be explained better or foreshadowed so they don't seem to come out of nowhere. But on the whole it's an impressive achievement for a world premiere by a local playwright. It deserves to get picked up and performed in other venues, not just in the state where it is set.

Blood and Water, through September 29, 2019, at Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill, 3011 Monte Vista Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. For tickets and information, visit