Logic and emotion are often portrayed as opposites, and yet they work together in ways that aren’t always apparent (for an engaging, hour-long, explanation of how the brain uses logic and emotion together, listen to a recent episode of NPR’s “Radio Lab” via the player below).
Playwright José Rivera has imagined that logic and emotion are at war, however, in References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, which is playing through May 5 at Moxie Theatre. The war reference is both literal and figurative, and it makes for a not-entirely satisfying evening.
Set in the aftermath of the 1990s Persian Gulf War, where U. S. forces retaliated after Iraq’s Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait, the story focuses on Gabriela (Jacqueline Grace Lopez), a young Army wife, who has been waiting near Fort Irwin, in Barstow, for the return of her husband (Jorge Rodriguez) from the war zone. Gabriela has been lonely, and she has filled her time with working at Costco, taking classes, and inventing an erotic life for herself.
Perhaps it is one of her classes that inspires her, or perhaps it is her own imagination, but Gabriela has taken iconic symbols (a cat, a coyote, the moon) and set them to talking. The cat (Anna Rebek) toys sexually in a dangerous game with the coyote (Steven Lone), while the moon (John Padilla) serenades Gabriela romantically and conjures the 14-year-old boy next door (Apollo Blatchley) as a panting, sex-crazed, suitor.
When husband Benito arrives, it is clear that the basis of their relationship is also sexual. Yet, the pair tries to tumble into bed there are problems. Benito has the war on his mind, and Gabriela has been charmed by ideas she has been learning and may not be entirely ready to resume a relationship based mostly on sex.
Act 2 moves in and out of Gabriela’s fantasy world, bringing back the iconic characters for a more complete resolution of their stories and providing some indication that Gabriela has grown as a person and that she will insist that Benito do the same. The play resolves its dramatic tension to a degree, but not without resorting to a device that has maddened fans of television series’ whose seasons end in cliffhanger plot twists.[php snippet=1]
Dana I. Harrel’s bodice-ripping production emphasizes lust and sensuality over character development. She directs her iconic characters to act as icons (for example, moving as if their animals might move), leaving Gabriela and Benito as the only characters that potentially have any dimension. Both performers are attractive and sexy, so that’s not the problem. The play wants us to root for Gabriela, but Ms. Lopez’s emotionally-distant, almost stand-offish, portrayal does not encourage rooting. Mr. Rodriguez, seen to good effect last year in ion’s production of Julia, brings fire and intelligence to his character, making the plot twist in Act 2 all the more maddening.
With solid but merely serviceable contributions on the technical side (scenic design by Christopher Ward, costume design by Alina Bokovikova, lighting design by Luke Olson, and sound design by Matt Lescault-Wood), References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot needs a hothouse of acting and directing to succeed. Despite its desert setting, this house is only lukewarm.