Book and Lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh
Music by Michael LaChiusa
Directed by Graciela Daniele
With Julio Monge and Michele Pawk
Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles
Through July 1, 2012
So there is this woman, just call her “Woman,” as it says in the program, played by Michele Pawk. She sings for approximately 40 or 45 minutes about how she, a white chick, has always felt like an outsider from the time she was an 11-year-old living in public housing in a small town near the Mexican border. She is not a very interesting person, and her pseudo Sondheim libretto does not add much excitement. Her part is entitled Tres Ninas and called Act I, but there is no intermission. Stifle the urge to say, “huh?” Know, if you care, that as an 11-year-old she was one of three friends who cut out paper dolls and looked for adventure along the train tracks. She then went on to be the single mom who raised two daughters and became a lush. Two and one make three in any generation, as you may recall … and therein rests the tale of Tres Ninas. Exit Woman for the time being. Despite being white she feels like one of “Los Otros.”
After the non-intermission comes Act II which is called “Dos Hombres.” However, do not expect any extra actors. This is a two-actor production. “Man,” Julio Monge, is a more interesting dude. Seventy-five years old, native born (he proudly reminds the audience several times), Latino, gay, IBM accountant; he is taking a shower, or so he tells us as he elegantly pantomimes, recounting a quick take on his life story. His solo libretto is about the same length, still no substitute for Sondheim, but his story is more interesting and his delivery impeccable. Despite even more humble beginnings and the struggle of being Latino — even if “native born” — his tale of sexual awakening, his professional success, and his long-standing troubled relationship with a white guy who hoards everything collectible from museum-quality art to baseball mitts, has the potential for a much more interesting evening. Not to be. This is an equal-time deal. Author Ellen Fitzhugh might think about going back and simply telling his story.
Their lives improbably cross for about two minutes at the end, with a little bit of a twist. And that is that. Curtains, as they say. Meaningfully, the audience politely applauds (standing, of course … this is Los Angeles and all opening nights get a standing ovation, even if it is but a prelude to walking out). Meaningfully, the best of the evening is the backstage, ten-person instrumental ensemble (under the direction of Chris Fenwick) that has accompanied the actors, but the audience leaves before the musicians can even take the stage.
What more is there to say? The mixture of cultures in Southern California is fertile ground. Culture Clash tills that soil effectively every few years. But social consciousness on its own does not make a play meaningful. Add experienced talented actors and a director with 10 Tony nominations to her name and that still is not enough. Stacking two sketchily told tales that barely cross is structurally weak. Committing their monologues to music does not add up by itself to musical theater. Sprinkling a few witticisms does not rescue it. The opening night audience, notoriously made up of friends and family who are primed to respond, barely chuckled. Someone commented it was a good nap.