By: Darryl Reilly
Absurdism, abstraction and warmth, abound in this U.S. premiere of Argentinian playwright Romina Paula’s loopy performance piece-style, The Whole of Time; it is an affectionate reworking of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Ms. Paula’s truncated Latin American-centric contemporary scenario and expressive dialogue (euphorically translated into English by Jean Graham-Jones) has shades of Sam Shepard and flourishes of Pedro Almodóvar, while wildly imparting discernibly tenuous parallels to Williams’ characters and plot. A distinctive section is an articuate discussion of Frida Kahlo as images of her paintings are projected over a fireplace.
Instead of the faded Southern belle matriarch Amanda Wingfield, here we get the saucy Ursula who is of Hungarian origin and who grew up in Mexico. The disabled daughter Laura is now the feisty able-bodied Antonia who is often at a laptop. The bookish Lorenzo is the stand-in for the restless melancholic son Tom, who is soon to flee his family for adventure in Spain. The pivotal Gentleman Caller is represented by the sensuous and sensitive restaurant bartender Maximiliano. For 70 minutes these exaggerated characters spar, dance, eloquently speechify, put on makeup and comb their hair. The Whole of Time is ultimately a quizzically entertaining alternative theatrical diversion. It has been given an energetic presentation and is engagingly performed.
Marlon Brando is visually and temperamentally channeled by the magnetic, chill and scruffy Ben Becher as Maximiliano. Clad in jeans, a white T-shirt and a black leather biker jacket, Mr. Becher vividly swaggers around with a bad boy vibe reminiscent of Brando in The Wild One. With his supple physique, melodious voice and everyman masculinity, Becher marvelously recalls Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire and Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, while emulating sensitive traits of classic Method acting. Speaking in a pronounced Latin accent that veers from comic to poignant, the lithe and animated Josefina Scaro offers a vivacious portrayal of Antonia, including a bit where she gleefully gallops about like a horse. Ms. Scaro is most entrancing during her passionate romantic sequence with Becher, particularly when they execute a duet of semi-erotic choreography. Sprightly Ana B. Gabriel’s characterization of Ursula beautifully combines daffiness with emotionalism during her richly offbeat maternal depiction. The soulful and wiry Lucas Salvagno’s lively performance as Lorenzo ranges from fiery to laidback. Mr. Salvagno is most thrilling when performing two Spanish songs which bookend the show, while shirtless and exhibiting rock star moves as he is shifted around in a wheelie chair.
Director Tony Torn’s vigorous physical staging on the contained playing area, which is sparely set with vintage furnishings, is marked by precision, forceful choreographic interludes and momentum. Mr. Torn also finely calibrates his cast’s grandiose performances. Crashing music and enchanting imagery are realized by Torn’s ace sound and projection design. A centerstage long vertical neon tube light achieves striking effects; it is characteristic of Jay Ryan’s gorgeously stylized lighting design which employs searing brightness, moody dimness and punchy blackouts. Artist Donald Gallagher provides two large dreamy blue wall panels with hints of clouds which arrestingly complement the characters’ states of being and the piece’s shifting tones. The uncredited bodacious costume design is heavy on red, pink, earth tones and denim.
The Whole of Time is given an intimate production for a maximum audience of 22, they are seated in two long rows in the living room-style space of a Chelsea townhouse. That this was the fabled longtime residence of the heralded American married acting couple Geraldine Page (1924-1987) and Rip Torn (1931-2019), adds a dimension of reverent nostalgia. The name of the venue is Torn Page.
The Whole of Time (through Jan 27, 2024)
Torn Page, 435 West 22nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit www.tornpage.org
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission