A world premiere by Nick Stokes, Duels, a play billed as being “made up of a heady mix of Beckett, magic realism and a tragic love story” opened at 12th Ave Arts this weekend. Although I would agree with some of that statement, I disagree with the adjectives used, as it was not “heady”, nor did the love story strike me as particularly tragic. Instead it was a poor script with a lot of pretentious touches, whose director, José Amador, did not seem capable of damage control, as the production did not showcase the considerable talent of two of the most accomplished actors in town: Carter Rodriquez and Marianna de Fazio.
The story-is told in more or less reverse chronological order. A city couple move to an “ex-urb” to save their marriage. John, played by Daniel Christian is a high powered hedgefund, high finance/ real estate type A character, Irene, his wife, played by Fazio, appears to have had nothing in her life but big city busyness-shopping, lunching out etc. In the acreage around an old farm house at the edge of a new suburban estate, she begins to fall in love with gardening and the Mexican gardener, played by Rodriguez, who has a quasi religious attachment to nature and growing things.
Some of the themes discussed in the rambling uninspired dialogue are: fear of Mexican immigrants using the symbolism of Coyotes and rabbits, predator vs. innocent prey, country life vs. city life à la Tolstoy. In a lot of very abstract slow-paced dialogue there were attempts at highly philosophical, existential matters of deep cosmic important but it seemed incoherent to me. Without character development, a real plot, cosmic relief or a dramatic arc, there was nothing to draw me in and the material seemed insufficient for a 90 minute play without an intermission.
However, the set design by Tom Wiseley was creative and meticulously realistic. The sound effects and music by Michael James Adams were superb. Even with my minimal Spanish, the text was constructed in such a way that when Juan spoke Spanish, the audience could understand what he was saying, mostly by the context and because he was either speaking Spanglish or using Spanish words which are familiar to Anglos.
One thing that seemed like an insult to the audience’s intelligence, even with all that excessive care taken for the set, lots of cubic feet of real soil, real tomatoes being splattered all over the set, there were several lines about zucchinis when the actors were holding up yellow spherical squashes.
My companion for the evening felt bored as well, however, one couple we talked to actually liked it, so perhaps some people will enjoy this play. Absurdist plays generally need more energy and a faster pace for me to enjoy them.
Duels. Amador/Stokes Productions. 12th Ave Arts. 1620-12th Ave. Capitol Hill. Thurs.-Sat. 8 pm. Industry Night. Aug. 28. Thru Sept. 10th.