Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rancho Viejo

Where do I start?  It was Awful, with a capital 'A'.  Underlined 3 times.  No, it was not the too-late-to-leave notice given by the director (Daniel Aukin)before the show started that the SET was incomplete (it was their fourth preview and i was not aware that they should be BUILDING sets at this point (maybe changing the color of a wall or moving a potted plant.).  No, it was not the fact that the play was 3 hours 15 minutes.  (August Osage County was just as long and was Amazing, with a capital 'A').  What was it, you ask?  THE MATERIAL.  Dan LeFranc has written some excellent pieces for the theater.  One of my favorites is The Big Meal.  Unfortunately, Rancho Viejo comes from some deep, dark, mysterious place that should never have been explored.

The characters are uninteresting, and mysteriously underdeveloped (too many questions about where they came from and how they got to be the way they are and why they even socialize).  I do realize they are all caricatures,  exaggerations of aspects and elements of people we see everyday - exaggerated to the point of farce I might note.  The dialogue is stilted, slow, and awkward.  The conversations are "slit-your-wrists" banal and insipid.  I get it, these people are trapped, lost, insignificant, and human. They are wondering about life.  But did they have to be so damn boring and last for 3 hours??

Now, despite the deep deficit in the material, the actors were magnificent.  Pete (Mark Blum) and Mary (Mare Winningham) were the chief weirdos, carrying the story, well, not forward, but at least from 8 O'clock to 11 o'clock.  Such awkwardness.  Such sadness and mystery.  Patti (Julia Duffy) stole the show with her looks and glances and her so clearly inappropriate comments.  Husband, Gary (Mark Zeisler) was Mister loudmouth obnoxious straight man.  Enough said.  Suzanne (Lusia Strus) drank more wine and had more one-liners than a night at a comedy festival.  Hubby Leon (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) was possibly the most normal (and youngest) spouse in the bunch.  Mike (Bill Buell) and Anita (Ruth Aguilar) were the comic relief although note to playwright and director - when you write whole monologues in Spanish (not just one of those "you-get-the-idea" dialogues, you lose the audience.  The absolutely adorable (even more-so with his shirt off) yet entirely creepy Tate (Ethan Dubin) was a complete mystery to me from start to finish.  No clue what we were supposed to get from this bizarre character who had almost nothing to do with these people.  And for the record, do we really need a dog (Mochi played by Marti) in the show?  Yes, it was cute.  No it was not necessary and everyone could hear the dog trainer/coach off stage snapping and issuing commands.

I'm not entirely clear, because we got no actual confirmation what part of the set was incomplete, but I think they should light the living room, which is used over and over differently (color/hue), to make it seem like it's not the same damn sectional sofa and pillows in the same damn house the entire time. At least change out the pillow colors or something. (Matt Frey, Dane Laffrey)

If you think my review is bad so far, wait till you hear about Act III.  No set to speak of. (Seriously you need to be finished with your set by the 4th preview).  A bizarre scene on the beach that was out of left field.  Modern dance.  A Cactus.  Fog.  Coyotes.  A straight jacket.  A shirtless boy. Surgery for a hole in the eyeball.  More teeth-brushing everywhere but the bathroom.  Many of the guns pulled out in Act I and II remained un-used.  Limited resolution.  More questions.  Little hope.

Save yourself from eternal damnation and stay home.