THE BASICS: BARCELÓ ON THE ROCKS, a play by Marco Antonio Rodriguez, translated into English by the author, presented by Raíces Theatre Company, directed by Victoria Pérez, stars Alejandro Gabriel Gómez, Rolando Martín Gómez, Jake Hayes, Victor Morales, Dewel Pérez, and Jordan Rosas and runs through December 16, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays & Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 6, plus December 12 at 7, at the Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Avenue. Third Floor elevator service provided. Light snacks, juice, water (381-9333). www.raicestheatrecompany.com Runtime: about two hours with one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Nino Antonio Cruz, a Dominican man living in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood with his two sons, is a walking bag of negative emotions, although for years the only one he has openly expressed is anger. His wife left him a long time ago, his most successful son never visits, he has serious doubts about his other two boys, not to mention the African American street punks in his neighborhood and their loud music. Finally, the loss of a painting that was the only tangible reminder of something wonderful, a love that blossomed only once in his life, breaks open his emotional gridlock.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This play is by Buffalo State grad Marco Antonio Rodriguez, born and bred in NYC with Dominican roots, who was in attendance for both opening and second nights in the small, but delightfully (and unusually) warm, Manny Fried Theatre.
The play is realistically set (urban, gritty) in a small apartment in Washington Heights, a culturally mixed neighborhood most well known outside of Manhattan as the setting of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical IN THE HEIGHTS. With sound effects and believable gestures, director Victoria Pérez conjures up the feel of summer in the city.
Rodriguez, the playwright, strikes me as possibly becoming a Latinx Arthur Miller (THE CRUCIBLE, A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN). There are obvious parallels between BARCELO’s Nino and SALESMAN’s Willy Loman as being men living lives of quiet desperation. They have covered up and lied to themselves and others so much that now they only live partly in the past, partly in hallucination, and can only handle reality a little at a time. In SALESMAN there’s Willy’s mysterious, but successful brother Ben who causes a great sense of inferiority and shame; in BARCELO, Nino’s memory of his brother Aurelio’s death is even more shamefully nuanced. And the spectre of Dominican dictator Joaquin Balaguer (reportedly responsible for 11,000 tortures, deaths, and disappearances) wandering in and out of the apartment seems symbolic of Nino’s loose grip on reality. This dude, like Willy Loman, has issues.
If you’re looking for a way to approach this play, a list of the top ten negative emotions might be instructive. They are: Anger, and right from the start, we know that Nino is angry at everybody – his ex-wife, the neighborhood, his boys, his doctor. Everybody. Annoyance? Yes, nobody can do anything “right” including the way they put away groceries, and their choices, the music they listen to. Apathy is on the list, and it’s clear that Nino has pretty much given up. Discouragement and Despair come through loud and clear, Disappointment and Frustration that his life has not turned out the way he wanted, Fear and Anxiety, especially about the past, not to mention a huge case of Guilt, leading to an overwhelming Sadness. As I said, Nino is a hot mess. And he drinks.
The title of the play, by the way, is a pun. Nino drinks, a lot, and prefers Barceló rum from the Dominican Republic over ice, or, slangily “on the rocks.” And, of course, a ship that has crashed on shore or any relationship that is in trouble is said to be “on the rocks.” Speaking of imbibing, kudos to director Pérez along with her two younger actors, Alejandro Gomez and Jordan Rosas for staging one of the funniest pot-smoking scenes I have ever seen, on stage or in the movies. Very well done.
On the other hand, the sequence of scenes including flashbacks might be, in my opinion, revised a bit to be less mysterious and more obvious. It was clear at intermission that I wasn’t the only one in the audience who was a bit confused. I would have preferred having everything revealed early on and then watching how things played out in Nino’s life.
Also, early in the run, there was a lot of shouting. I hope that as the actors start to trust the material, each other, and the audience, they might reign it in just a little.
In the end, it’s very difficult to talk honestly about specific elements in this play without revealing too many spoilers, so you might want to catch this production early in the career of NYC based (but with Buffalo roots) Rodriguez yourself.
Credit rehearsal photos by Rafael C. Mencia | Lead image: BARCELO Rolando M. Gomez is the deeply troubled Nino
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!