On the Bus

You can't get much simpler than a humble man moved to tell a story by emotional events in his life. In Q-101 (Surf Reality), an hourlong monologue as casual as a bar conversation, Steven Tanenbaum recounts some of his experiences as a teacher at Riker's Island. Tanenbaum is a short, balding, and pale mensch with an arch in his back that makes him seem perpetually downcast. His voice is a New York accent you've heard before, somewhere between a cabbie and Paul Simon. Armed only with a few props— a stool and a microphone whose cord constantly threatens to trip him— he describes in humorous and writerly detail his one-year stint at the "university of incarceration." Tanenbaum tends to focus not on the behavior of his convict students, but the adjustments he finds himself making to his unusual environs. Many of his anecdotes take place on the bus for which the piece is titled, the only public transportation that goes to Riker's. Visitors drool on his jacket, he overhears a heated battle of the sexes— "which is better," two visitors debate, "the dick or the pussy?"— and he's nearly squashed by a throng of bus riders. After a few months, he's transferred to the AIDS ward and soon endears himself to the odd characters in this version of God's waiting room. Richard has TB and spits when he talks. Manny wears a bike helmet in lieu of a metal plate in his skull. But it's Ephraim who touches Tanenbaum most deeply. Ephraim makes peace between the Hispanics who want to watch telenovelas and the brothers who want Bonanza; he whispers words of encouragement to prisoners in solitary. Q-101 can sound like a stand-up routine at times, but Tanenbaum's sincerity is thorough and powerful, his simple, good intentions showing through with remarkable clarity. — James Hannaham


Making a Killing

While it deserved praise as a musical extravaganza, the 1995 Broadway run of Gabriel García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold lacked the sardonic edge and the Latin soul of the version currently being staged at Repertorio Español. This new production, in Spanish with available English translation, includes actors with roots in Colombia, Argentina, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The cast's accomplished evocation of mid-'50s small-town Colombia, steeped in almost feudal tradition and some haunting cumbia melodies, returns the play to its tropical roots.

Perhaps the most autobiographical of García Márquez works, Chronicle was based on an actual murder that came to fascinate journalists bent on interviewing the crime's plethora of colorful witnesses. Bogotá-based director Jorge Alí Triana— who adapted the work— deploys an array of relatives, friends, and townspeople struggling to explain how the Vicario twins (Donald López and Francisco Martínez) killed Santiago Nasar (Juan Sebastian Aragón) for deflowering their sister, Angela (Selenis Leiva). The flashbacks and mesmerizing chatter elicit the same gallows humor that festers in newsrooms from New York to Tierra del Fuego, and the absurdity of crimes of passion is laid bare.

Although Chronicle implies people are too self-obsessed or cowardly to prevent a terrible deed from happening, this production seems to revel in the inevitability of an explosion when love, lust, and property collide. There is little moralizing when the imperious Bayardo San Román (Iván Espeche) discovers Angela is not a virgin, and the Vicario twins, pig butchers by trade, are not needlessly romanticized. All that's left are the poetic hard facts, and the sad, sensual air created by Leiva, whose performance is one of this production's highlights. — Ed Morales


L.A. Inconsequential

Apparently Jeff Daniels has taken his role in Dumb and Dumber to heart. Why else would he try to top himself by moving on to Dumbest in the form of Thy Kingdom's Coming!, a Hollywood satire? The mind boggles trying to locate the rationale for this mistaken Barrow Group enterprise. Perhaps the Tinseltown send-up is the actor's explanation for his living in Chelsea, Michigan.

Derek Johansen, a superstar who shares Arnold Schwarzenegger's accent and cheese-wheel biceps, is skedded to shoot Kill Zone III in two weeks. Deciding, however, he wants "to get away from the action-film thing for a while," he agrees to play Jesus in a Bible epic that shares its title with the play's. His sudden switch irks business partner Gordon Wessler until Wessler realizes he, too, will share in proceeds from T-shirts and lunch pails. Contributing to the din in Johansen's stuccoed Beverly Hills home are Gerald Maruskin, a highly paid screenwriter who looks young enough to be a computer billionaire, and Crash Baker, a gay stuntman who insists he's gone straight and now reveres Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.

The only complication in a play that has no complications any seasoned dramatist would recognize is that Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, and a few other bankables are planning similar flix and Johansen's version isn't ready to roll.

It's never a smart move to have characters barrel around saying things about having "no script" and "no action" when the undertaking in which they're appearing has no script and no action— plus a curtain gag that reduces whatever play there is to a one-liner. But Patrick Kline, Larry Clarke, Reade Kelly, and Gregory Cook do their utmost to make it look as if they're acting in something viable. — David Finkle

 
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