Rogelio Martinez’s Learning Curve qualifies as a freshman effort in more ways than one. For the Cuban-born playwright, it represents his first major drama that doesn’t center on Latino characters. Set in 1969, the play focuses on David, an African American student who arrives from the South for his first year at a university in upstate New York. Like David, Learning Curve is energetic, intelligent, and filled to the brim with ideas. And like David, Learning Curve is embarrassingly, almost fatally earnest—an issue play that boasts the self-seriousness (and dramatic complexity) of a term paper.
On his first night at college, David (Demond Robertson) meets cute with Sally (Natalia Payne), a photography major who happens to be white. The libidinous coed quickly seduces the virginal mama’s boy and surreptitiously snaps photos of his naked body—the results of which create a controversy when they materialize at a gallery. Learning Curve doesn’t know a ’60s hot-button topic that it can’t push to death: civil rights, affirmative action, Vietnam, interracial romance. The resulting grab bag is cluttered and disappointingly shallow. Fortunately, comic relief (however unintentional) is to be had in the form of present-day David (Mike Hodge), whose meta-narration reduces all the impassioned fist waving into bizarre, Wonder Years-style bathos.
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