It’s always nice to see the setting-as-character of New Mexico played to its strengths.
“Main Street, Portales” is a set of two one-act plays written and directed by local artist Leonard Madrid. Both halves are separate pieces, though both are set in Portales and carry a few shared themes.
The first half, “Volver, Volver, Volver,” is about a dead man visiting first his mother, then his wife, then finally his daughter. The piece’s immediate strengths are that of its poetry and setting. The characters breathe New Mexico. Talk of brujas, death, spells and tamales blend into a Chicano magical realism that feels real, lived in, and familiar. The dialogue is engrossing and often beautiful, and the concept alone is too cool to be believed.
There are rough edges to the production, however, despite the fascinating writing. The production feels very rushed, like there was never enough rehearsal or enough creative heads sharing work. But the theater is new. Or maybe that’s always the way New Mexico works.
Firstly, “Volver, Volver, Volver” is way too long. It feels airy, with dramatic pauses populating nearly every line. Despite being composed of three scenes, it runs over an hour. Much of the awkward tension in the dialogues is created by these long breathy beats, but they ultimately make the piece drag and when intermission finally does come, I was more than ready for it.
Secondly, the casting is bizarre. I am suspicious that last minute changes were even made considering how miscast Ben Carroll is as Junie, the dead man. Carroll doesn’t seem to know what to do with his dialogue and simply isn’t believable as the pretty-boy vato badass. If anything, George Quintero (who simply plays the small part of Flores in the final scene of the second act) would have done perfectly as the journeying dead man, and Carroll could just as easily performed as Flores. Other actors do well enough with their parts, but Angelina Ortiz, however, is spectacular as Socorro, the dead man’s daughter.
Thirdly, the staging is noticeably bland. The actors do little with their movement, losing the chance to show intention and emotion. Mostly they just stand there. Sometimes the actors shamble a little or shuffle their feet uncomfortably. Despite how intriguing much of the poetry in the dialogue is, I suspect Madrid might just be a better writer than he is a director.
Lastly, the piece doesn’t dramatically seem to reach the heights it sets for itself. The stakes certainly seem like they’re high — with the dead speaking with the living for piece and meaning. And the final scene seems like it should be that climatic point of clarity. But it doesn’t really seem to come. In fact, nothing really much of anything seems to happen. It seems like Madrid has a goal in mind for the scene and the piece overall, but it ends without resolution or even real change.
The second one-act play, “Ambrosita”, is thankfully much shorter, but also makes much less sense.
Again, we have a journeying protagonist literally walking from scene to scene, though this time it is a woman, Ambrosita, played by Selah Carrasco. Like Junie, Ambrosita is continually described by the other characters as attractive, but also attractive in the way that they’re the prettiest people in such a small town — a wholly different sort of self-awareness of beauty.
The opening scene of “Ambrosita” has the monstrous and vile Kiko (played by Robert Murray) threaten Ambrosita with possessive and sexual violence. It is a dark and striking scene. It is immediately followed, however, by a goofy, slapstick scene with Eppie (played by Aleix Torres), a childlike cartoon so ridiculous I wondered if he was intended to be a tiny child or just mentally handicapped. The next scene then combines the rapeyness of Kiko with the slapstick of Eppie to create Cippie (played by Corey Farmer, Jr.).
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Overall, the dialogue is still fresh and funny, but thematically all over the place — and considerably less deep than the previous act. The odd staging of “Volver, Volver, Volver” carried over into “Ambrosita”, but where it was all going made less sense too.
If given more time and consideration, these pieces could be magnificent. The power of the script cannot be hidden by the bumps along the way, and, for a $5 ticket price, it is awfully hard to go wrong.
Graham Gentz is a theatre and play reviewer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.
What: “Main Street, Portales”
Where: CNM’s Coal Avenue Theatre (the CAT)
525 Buena Vista Drive
When: Fridays and Saturdays, 7:30 pm and
Sundays, 2:00 pm
Runs until March 22
Prices: $5 general admission
For more information, call (505)224-3593 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.