You want to know what the soul is like
This one’s in shreds. José Rivera
Written by Oscar nominated José Rivera, produced by Seattle’s Latino Theatre Projects, Brainpeople, an extremely interesting play, opened this weekend at Theatre off Jackson, complete with exceptional production values and a cast to match.
Although no one could call Brainpeople a “well-made play” and creative writing professors could write volumes about the flaws in the plot. In my opinion, the setting, a dystopian Marshal-law ruled L.A., was not well integrated into the storyline and was almost superfluous, yet what carried the show was the exceptional dialogue, the astute psychological insights of the author and the superb acting by Alyssa Norling, Vero Lecocq and Sofia Raquel Sanchez, in immensely challenging roles.
As the play opens, the audience stares at a set, which can only be described as Charles Addams meets Day of the Dead, which I suppose dates me, but I believe the younger generation would call it Goth. Alexander Scott Winterle, the set designer, most assuredly, knew something about color theory because he chose one of the most powerful color schemes which subliminally streamlined the themes and emotions of the story rather better than the exposition.
Winterle’s choice of black, red and white was not accidental because, the color red suggests fire, violence, warfare and passion. On the positive side, black is associated with power, elegance, and formality but also with evil, death and mystery. Along with Michael Mrizek’s lighting design, the overall visual effect was completely tailor-made for the murky situation the characters found themselves in; which was both formal and elegant, but full of tango-like power-plays as well as potential violence and passion. Director Fernando Luna certainly made the right personnel choices with these two.
As the play opens, in a bizarrely Gothic dinning room, complete with professionally framed etchings of skeletons on the wall, Mayannahm a tall dark elegantly dressed Latina walks in, wearing about 7 inch designer heels, jewels, and a black silk modern dress, influenced by traditional Andalucian folk costumes. Mayanna is bossy and appears to be used to getting her own way. With her, is a scruffy red head character, originally named Rosemary, played by Ms. Norling. The character Rosemary keeps changing her name, persona, body language and accent, as we learn that she is truly pathologically psychotic with some sort of multiple personality disorder.
Bossy Mayannah, has paid a small fortune to Rosemary and another unfortunate, Ani, played by Vero Lecocq to have dinner with her and is about to serve a mysterious kind of meat, which puzzles and scares the other two. Ani appears to be the polar opposite of the bossy, spoilt Mayanna, being mousey and timid. Later, it is revealed that Mayannah and Ani have a significant, but serendipitous connection. The three play verbal tango as they discuss life, art and death with a huge amount of sexual and sinister overtones.
Finally, they all reveal their emotional isolation, fear of each other and somehow in the end bond together to heal their wounds and enjoy real human connection by sharing a meal together.
Although the director attributes the psychological state of the individuals to “the future breakdown of our society and the increased paramilitarism of the streets” leading to all sorts of “psychological disorders and prolonged grief”, in my opinion, these three women are Every Women and the setting could be just about anywhere in a modern industrialized society.
Many theatre goers do not find it appealing to sit through a play, where there is only just one long conversation, but the exquisite writing and the ability of the actors to keep the audience engaged in some rather long monologues made it all an enlightening and enjoyable experience.
The author, José Rivera, was the first Puerto Rican to be nominated for an Oscar for Screenwriting (the Motorcycle Diaries-the story of Che Guevera’s motorcycle trip around South America) Based on the poetic nature of his dialogue in Brainpeople, I would assume his nomination was well deserved.
Director Fernando Luna deserves a lot of credit for the success of this production, which was a very challenging play to direct. I heartily recommend this gem, as it is fairly unique in Seattle and has universal appeal.
Brainpeople by José Rivvera. Latino Theatre Projects. Theatre off Jackson, 409-7th Ave S. Seattle (International District) 7th and Jackson. Thu, Fri, Sat 8 pm Thru Nov. 3. Tickets http://latinotheatreprojects.org/get-tickets/ (Light Rail Stop International District) Bus #14. Parking is difficult