Moonlight swims

Sexy, surrealistic piece opens next at Blue Room

LANGUID ’NEATH DESERT MOONLIGHT Lonely Gabriela (Nancy Van Lydegraf) comforts a passionate young “peeping Tom” (Marcus Sams) yet pines for her absent husband, while her cat (Jocelyn Stringer) snoozes in the back with a cavalier coyote (Calvin Reece) during José Rivera’s <i>References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot</i>, opening Friday at the Blue Room Theatre<i>.</i>

LANGUID ’NEATH DESERT MOONLIGHT Lonely Gabriela (Nancy Van Lydegraf) comforts a passionate young “peeping Tom” (Marcus Sams) yet pines for her absent husband, while her cat (Jocelyn Stringer) snoozes in the back with a cavalier coyote (Calvin Reece) during José Rivera’s References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, opening Friday at the Blue Room Theatre.

Photo by Tom Angel

Here, the desert stretches out into infinite possibilities, the curves, bumps and concavities glittering almost like flesh beneath the moonlight playing across the observer’s mind. And on this clear, hot, hallucinogenic evening, around a cinderblock-demarcated Southwest-style patio, a particularly wily coyote pursues a particularly sensuous cat. A gun-wielding, pajama-veiled woman suddenly stalks out onto the patio; a half-hidden young man watches. The coyote cowers, the woman confesses her hopes and fears about her absent soldier-husband to the cat, and the young man burns with youthful desire. Above everything, the moon whispers to all.

Thus begins José Rivera’s sexy, surrealistic play References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot. The dreamlike drama is to be the next production at the Blue Room Theatre in downtown Chico. The story follows an estranged couple, Gabriela and Benito. He’s in the army fighting a war somewhere, while she’s left at home in the desert, hot, horny and alone. When Benito arrives home for some R&R, a fight erupts—Gabriela wants Benito to abandon the army, while he insists he must remain in order to collect a hefty pension. Intertwined through this are the antics of the cat and coyote, the impassioned young peeping Tom, and the poetic moon. Directing the show is Blue Room managing director Margot Melcon.

“Last summer I went to the O’Neill Playwriting Festival in Connecticut,” Melcon says, explaining how she learned of the play. Melcon had won the prestigious ACTF competition for criticism while in college, and eventually found herself sent to critique plays at the event.

The festival “had a real bare bones, two-week rehearsal process,” Melcon continues. “They shipped in directors and casts from New York, and we just had this kind of Bohemian experience where we all ate together, slept in the same buildings, and sat around talking about all this stuff.”

It was here that Melcon heard a few of the actors talk enthusiastically about a play that had just been produced only a few months earlier. Her interest ignited, after she returned to Chico Melcon ordered a copy of the script.

She isn’t entirely sure why she likes it so much.

“It’s not my style,” Melcon admits. “I tend more toward modern American playwrights. You know, family dramas … the Mamets, the Shepards. This is very much a departure from those.

“It’s so poetic,” she explains. “And it’s so dreamy and magical, and not as straightforward as the stuff that I typically like. This really takes you into a dream world context. For some reason, that really appealed to me.”

She passed the script to Blue Room Artistic Director Joe Hilsee. He liked it and gave Melcon the go-ahead to direct the show.

While this is Melcon’s first directorial assignment, she brings years of working with other directors to bear upon this project. “Throughout the rehearsal process, I found myself evoking other directors,” she admits. If a particular staging problem was presented, Melcon simply asked herself what so-and-so would do. “That’s just the evolution of somebody’s style, I guess,” she says. “You take little bits and pieces of others and see what kinds of combinations you can come up with. That becomes your own style.”

With a cast that includes such Blue Room vets as Cal Reece and Jocelyn Stringer, the show promises good performances. During rehearsal a week ago, watching Stringer languidly pad around the set, stretching catlike, and coyote Reece pursue her with angular, predatory intent, growling seductive phrases, was pure delight.

When asked what she hopes the audience will take away from this play, Melcon answers, “We want them to feel turned on and wanting to embrace a lover or a friend. So much of this [story] is two people who have drifted apart, and you have this incredible sense of hope at the end that they’re going to get back together.

“And the need to get laid! That’s what we’re going for."