References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot
José Rivera is one to watch, a Latino playwright with a gift for language and imagery. His play Marisol picked up an Obie Award 10 years ago; his subsequent Cloud Tectonics was widely produced—including an aborted local run at the B Street Theatre in 1996.
The B Street’s luminous production got enthusiastic reviews. But the theater’s largely Anglo audience pretty much stayed home. Faced with mounting losses, producing director Buck Busfield pulled the plug halfway through the run. Financially, it was a move he probably had to make, but artistically, it was a very sad moment. Six years later, Busfield has yet to attempt another play with Latino characters. Actually, in recent years, only a handful of Latino plays have been staged anywhere in Sacramento, mostly at River Stage.
This brings us to California Stage’s small-scale production of Rivera’s References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot. Set in the desert near Barstow, the story focuses on a military wife whose uniformed husband is returning from the Gulf War. Her thinking about the world and war has changed—a lot—while he’s been away.
The play has Rivera’s hallmarks: shimmering nets of language; indistinct boundaries between fantasy and reality; and abundant, simmering sexuality, both verbal and physical.
The opening and ending are surreal—talking animals and a wonderful appearance by the world-weary Moon (Antonio Tito Juárez, making effective use of flexible facial expressions).
But the core of the play is realistic—a bedroom argument between spouses who’ve grown apart. Weary Benito wants his wife to undress, so they can have sex; Gabriella wants to talk and renegotiate the relationship they carelessly initiated in their teens. Actress Regina Cabral (as Gabriella) gives a very strong performance, fulfilling the promise she’s shown in previous roles. Ramon Perez (as Benito) goes toe-to-toe with her; his performance shows us why she fell in love with him and why she wants him to change. Steve Gonzales plays the horny, curious teen next door, hopping over the fence to make a loony pass at Gabriella. Director Manuel Pickett, formerly of El Teatro Campesino, employs some of that company’s direct, playful style.
It’s an uneven effort—the talking animals being less successful than Gabriella and Benito’s conflict. But on the whole, this is a very interesting show, and it fills an aching void in this town’s theater scene. Check it out.