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Boxer Shorts II: From Water to Dust / Del Agua al Polvo

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Mar 2, 2016
Miguel Septién in "Boxer Shorts II," playing thorugh March 6 at Atlantic Wharf
Miguel Septién in "Boxer Shorts II," playing thorugh March 6 at Atlantic Wharf  

Brown Box Theatre Project presents "Boxer Shorts II: From Water to Dust / Del Agua al Povo," an anthology of short plays by authors "of Latin American descent," as the press materials point out, that "are tied together by common themes of memory, reflection, and repentance."

What better place to explore those themes that the afterlife? That seems to be another theme the play explores, in some instances metaphorically and in other selections in quite a literal sense.

"Tape," by José Rivera, takes place within the confines of a shroud -- that is to say, a room the walls of which are formed by gauzy cloth. (Kudos to scenic designer Megan F. Kinneen for this inspired choice.) Within the room we can see, though somewhat murkily, a woman (listed as "Person" in the credits) (Rachel Belleman) being given instructions by a man (the "Attendant") (Johnny Quinones) on how to work an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder. He also has helpful pointers for more general rules that apply in this environment, which turns out to be Purgatory. What could be on the tapes, and what happens once the woman has sorted through all ten thousand boxes awaiting her attentive ears? If this is a punishment, what were her crimes?

As the second short play commences, one gauzy wall comes down; the picture is a little clearer, at least to some of the audience members seated in the imposing space, which is situated, basically, in a lobby. "Capricho," by Nilo Cruz, is a one-man show, a monologue delivered by Lolò (Miguel Septién), an actor in a shabby, dusty tuxedo whose disjointed thoughts and reminiscences revolve around having once been on stage, and his hopes to return there. Is it only Lolò's career that has died? Or is Lolò a ghost haunting a theater where his brief candle once burned, and now has been forgotten? Costume designer Lila West shines here and in the fourth short play of the evening, and sound designer Nick Kelly has an ear, hitting the right notes, so to speak, as distant calls and summonses invite other actors and ratchet up Lolò's anxieties.

The death of love presents itself as a chief concern in María Irene Fornés' "Springtime," in which a lesbian couple struggle to get by despite Greta (Belleman) being ill. Her partner, Rainbow (Olivia Caputo), is so devoted that she'll do anything to get money for Greta's medicine -- even things that disgust and frighten Greta. When a ruthless tough (Septién) enters the picture, Greta's anger turns to jealousy. Does she have cause? Even if she does, is it a situation she's helping to create?

In "Bliss," by Caridad Svich, two spirits float and whirl. Lori (Caputo) and Jim (Quinones) flirt with each other, and flirt with the idea of returning to Earth to live out new lives. A length of silken cloth connects them like strands of affection, but also binds them stickily together -- a karmic bond, perhaps, or some sort of obligation lasting beyond mortal lifetimes. As the spirits dance, their dialogue -- which takes the form of snippets and insinuations -- also seems to whirl, nerve quite coalescing but painting a portrait all the same of who and where they are. What are their choices? Of those choices, are only some acceptable?

These short plays pose more questions than they answer; that seems to be the point. The results are uniformly mesmerizing, but variable of impact. The most moving story is that of poor Lolò, whose depiction by Miguel Septién possesses earthbound gravity and touching pathos. "Tape," while it would make for a passable episode of "The Twilight Zone," doesn't have the scope it needs to move past the high-concept setting; if the crime and the punishment faced by the Person are meant to reflect each other, or if the Person's status as beleaguered neophyte to Purgatory is meant to be offset by the Attendant's blend of sympathy and jadedness, those relationships don't quite materialize: They remain as nebulous as the set's innovative and intriguing gauzy walls.

"Springtime" has more bite, and also more poignancy: Its arc and ending suggest that love, too, might be thought of as giving rise to ghosts and hauntings after having perished. It's nice, too, to see a lesbian love story that's almost incidental to the story -- almost, that is, except for the intrusion of a swaggering man; the sexual and gender politics are not hammered out in detail, but they don't have to be. The writing sketches in what we need to know intellectually, and viscerally we're filled in by the cast's grasp of the situation and the people involved.

The least effective, if most ethereal, is the final chapter, which seems to pose the age-old question of life's meaning. If there is a realm outside of ordinary, mechanistic space and time -- where life is a biological process, vulnerable to and reliant upon, chemistry and physics -- then why would anyone bother to live here on Earth? Is it a question of finding, or fleeing, love and transcendent connection? Inviting rumination is fine, but we're sent away with a sense of having been teased with half-thoughts on the matter. That said, the choreography Caputo and Quiniones perform is like a language in itself -- a language of physical poetry, yes, but in this setting a convincing stand-in for the language of angels.

"Boxer Shorts II: From Water to Dust / Del Agua al Polvo" continues through Sunday, March 6, at Atlantic Wharf, 290 Congress Street in Boston. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.brownboxtheatre.org/shorts2.html

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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