Sex and talking cats and a guitar-playing moon, oh my!
Playwright José Rivera takes Salvador Dalí, the king of artistic surrealism, as inspiration for this darkly poetic fantasy/drama “References To Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot,” playing through May 5 at Moxie Theatre. Dana I. Harrel directs.
The setting is Barstow, a California desert town with a large military base where men are trained for combat. The time is just after the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War.
Gabriela (Jacqueline Grace Lopez) waits in the vast loneliness of the desert (wonderfully evoked by Christopher Ward’s set design) for the return of husband Benito (Jorge Rodriguez).
She feels trapped in this place: “I sit out here and watch the cactus trees inching closer and closer to my house concealing dark spirits, hungry spirits, secret-keepers and heartbreakers.”
Gabriela has tried making friends with other military wives. But as she puts it, “It’s a scientific fact: the brain can only gossip about soap operas for so long before it starts to puke on itself.”
And with only her talking Cat (Anna Rebek), the Moon (John Padilla) and her 14-year-old randy neighbor Martín (Apollo Blatchley) for company, she dreams, studies the stars, wonders how much longer she can take this life.
At night, she sleeps in the backyard, dreaming under those stars and talking to the Moon, who not only watches and comments on the action below, but now and again actually comes down to dance with Gabriela.
Meanwhile, Cat meets the black leather-clad Coyote (Steven Lone). Wary of each other, they argue their respective lives. She says she’s loved. He scoffs: “Love with chains and flea collars attached. Love with no purpose to it, no reproduction, no passion.”
He complains of what humans have done to his desert: “The way the mountains are so nicely carved up -- oh, such beautiful scars! -- oh, the pretty bomb craters! -- those sexy switchblade cuts in the flesh of the land! What kind of drugs do they put in your food?”
And he invites Cat out into the desert where “we really know how to love.” And she goes with him.
Rivera’s language is poetic and his images often dreamlike, but the problems are utterly human, real and terrestrial.
When Benito finally gets home, he’s looking for a little love, while Gabriela hopes for some conversation and verification that he is the same man she married 11 years ago.
Of course, he is not, and communication misfires at every opportunity. He doesn’t understand why she doesn’t drop her drawers, she doesn’t get why he’s not concerned about the missing Cat, and whether this marriage can last becomes a central theme of the play.
Guest director Harrel (Producing Director at La Jolla Playhouse), blessed with
a top-notch cast and a terrific tech team, sets the right pace and Derrick McGee contributes charming.
Lopez’s Gabriela is earthy and ethereal, a charming but demanding dreamer all in one package.
Rodriguez’s excellently drawn Benito – the practical, earthbound, no-nonsense soldier – shows why these opposites have communication problems.
Rebek’s Cat and Lone’s Coyote provide the comic relief – and they are brilliant. Rebek’s got the sinuous, catlike moves; Lone has a better line than one might expect of a coyote, but the menace is there, even in the sexy words.
Padilla’s seen-it-all Moon is a hoot, whether smarting about Shakespeare calling him inconstant (“I never recovered from that – the bastard!”) or explaining Gabriela’s dreams.
Blatchley is totally convincing as the smitten Martín, a typical teenager who just wants to lose his virginity as soon as possible.
Ward’s set, with the house appearing to melt into the desert, is lit evocatively by Luke Olson. Matt Lescault-Wood contributes a fine sound design, and Alina Bokovikova’s costumes evoke both fantasy and reality.
Rivera’s Oscar-nominated screenplay for the 2004 “The Motorcycle Diaries” brought him to the attention of the general public, but it’s plays like this that will make his lasting reputation.
“References To Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot” plays through May 5 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd.
Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.
Tickets: (858) 598-7620 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.