Uncollected Stories

Nothing in The Butterfly Collection, however, vanishes more rapidly than Straight as a Line. Luis Alfaro's brief (75 minutes) two-hander seems to last years, even decades, while you watch it; once out of the theater, it vanishes faster than a stain in a TV detergent commercial. The painful explanation is that there was no play there to begin with. A mother, an ex-prostitute who is now a Las Vegas casino hostess, rescues her HIV-positive son—also a former prostitute—from a thoroughly unconvincing suicide attempt, and takes him back to Vegas, where she nurses him, when not making change for the slot-machine players, until he dies. This is not a story, not a drama, and, regrettably, not new in any respect. In his first few scenes—there are 17 all told—Alfaro does try to pump some fresh air into the subject by giving his characters brash, shame-free, comic things to say about sex, disease, and death. (Told her son is positive, the mother says, "Well, it sounds better than being negative.")

Brian Murray and James Colby in The Butterfly Collection: transacting familiar family business
photo: Joan Marcus
Brian Murray and James Colby in The Butterfly Collection: transacting familiar family business


The Butterfly Collection
By Theresa Rebeck
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street

Straight as a Line
By Luis Alfaro
Primary Stages
354 West 45th Street

But the brashness goes nowhere, because the characters have no relationship beyond the biological, and the situation virtually guarantees that the only one they can develop is all too familiar from a million tearjerkers. Accordingly, Alfaro and his director, Jon Lawrence Rivera, try to cover the inevitable trope with what can only be called gadgetry: For no particular reason, the characters are made British and then cast with Asian American actors, which fatally cramps Natsuko Ohama's style, since her voice, already pinched and meager, nearly disappears under the extra burden of East End dipthongs. James Sie, as her son, generally does better, but also lets the pointless accent slide more often. Alfaro writes scenes as Laugh-In-style gag moments or fills the mother's speeches with Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce hype; Rivera plays artsy tricks with lighting effects, music, and nudity. Everything is an attempted piece of sleight of hand, including the title, which turns out to allude to the mother's posture rather than the son's sexual preference. But there's nothing underneath all the fancy business except a picture of something you've already experienced elsewhere; it's like being served a cardboard cutout of a veal chop, drenched in an elaborate sauce.

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