Dude, Here’s Your Car
In David Wiener’s Blood Orange (Blue Heron), a late-’70s Chevy Matador sits poised on the stage like a weapon aimed at the audience. Before the evening ends, the car will serve an unexpected and chilling purpose.
The car—inoperable—is the fix-it project of 19-year-old Clinton, who fantasizes it will sweep him to Mexico, away from his bitter, alcoholic mother and his empty life in a cul-de-sac in the Southern California burbs. Simmering with rage, this muscle-bound, taciturn bully victimizes the teens on the block—the Girl he casually fucks; Ray-Ray, whom he roughs up and exhorts to be a “man”; and Ernie-BoBo, the retarded boy he viciously toys with. All live alone with their moms.
Wiener depicts a world where kids take care of their fragile parents but interact with each other in sadistic/masochistic couplings; they displace their anger or need and act out a distorted sexuality. Clinton’s brutal charisma is their fatal attraction.
Anders Cato directs at a charged, jittery pace, rendered more unnerving by designer Roger Raines’s jangling soundscape, Justin Burleson’s splotchy or garish light, and John McDermott’s menacing set. All the actors create sharply etched characters, led by Wendy vanden Heuvel, turning in a gut-wrenching performance as Ray-Ray’s mother, who’s dying of brain cancer. Pablo T. Schreiber makes a scary Clinton.
The only wrong notes are Wiener’s occasional lapses into overwrought monologue. Otherwise, the dialogue is honest, quick, and funny. The people he’s created speak for themselves. And as the vehicle carrying them hurtles to its disturbing conclusion, you can’t help but squirm. —Francine Russo
“Slow down,” requests writer Aaron Howard of the audience gathered for “My Boys Frighten Me” (La MaMa), a grim variety show curated by downtown curiosity Edgar Oliver. “Listen to what isn’t happening.”
He’s brave to ask anyone to slow down for a revue that starts at 10 p.m. and goes on long enough to have an intermission. But he’s not kidding. There’s almost two hours of nothing happening to listen to. Oliver, a slight man from Savannah known for his affected voice, is enough of a character himself that you’d expect him to draw birds of a feather. But he and his henchmen have stitched together a group of strikingly untheatrical, astonishingly banal vignettes. The first is a solo piece by Michael Wiener, a performance artist whose lengthy bio exceeds his modest achievements. Wiener first appears in a wig, making halting apologies and rambling absurdly, suddenly switching into French and briefly pretending to be a frog. Later, no longer a frog, he recites the story of a brief road trip, written as if it were meant only for the page. Wiener doesn’t look very comfortable onstage; he leaves big gaps between words and shifts around nervously. This awkwardness would make his tale harder to follow but for the fact that it contains no events. David Francis, a tall, bony guitarist with white hair, follows Wiener and is then joined by Howard, who reads stories directly from his notebooks. His sentences are neatly constructed and his voice pleasant, but his writing avoids characters, plot, or pathos in favor of extraneous detail: “You fumble with the paper wrapper on the soap. Getting it wet makes it harder to open.”
Also wrong is Eric Roemele’s “Scenes From Borderline,” in which a masked actor plays a one-man insane clown posse in an Ed Gein T-shirt. By the time Oliver appears, sans his usual wry wit, spewing a tedious, literally navel-gazing piece about returning to his childhood through a mirror, what isn’t happening gets very loud indeed. —James Hannaham
The Porn of a Dilemma
Alice Tuan’s Ajax (the Flea) flashes a Greek drama title. Unlike Sophocles’, though, her play is far from being a tragedy. The four performers read most of their lines from behind podiums, vomiting their most personal desires. In Tuan’s writing, the boundaries between public and private matters crumble—sex is redefined as social, and it cuts with satirical edge.
Ditsy Annette is in a festive mood. Her classy partner Alma invites Jesse, a hunk with a carnivorous appetite for women, and Alexander, a horny hick, over for a party. Together, they indulge in a coke-snorting, bottle-swigging, mate-switching soiree, which abounds with blowjobs and anal sex. In one scene, the gals have “splashy fun,” leaving a kitchen’s white tiles smeared with pomegranate, a bloody image that becomes both sensual and creepy. The entire play operates in this strange borderland between attraction and repulsion.
The program describes Ajax as a “dangerous play about the pornographies of human behavior,” but it brims with other interpretative possibilities. Alma is also known as Double-Penelope and is married to Dick-Odyssey. Surprisingly, these porn-ish classical references, whether mocking or not, add substance to the narrative and lend it metatheatrical layers. And don’t dismiss the play’s numerous shaggy-dog stories. “Something huge looms in small talk,” as Annette says.
Jim Simpson’s direction juices up the witty and wacky text, Tuan’s tongue-in-cheek tone nailed by performers Joanie Ellen, Sam Marks, Alfredo Narciso, Kristin Stewart, and narrator Siobhan Towey. The play ends by sending up a traditional tragic scene of dismemberment. Annette uses Ajax cleaner to scrub up the resulting mess. In today’s consumer world, it seems, purging can only be done with a cleaning product. —Christiane Riera Salomon