"Boleros for the Disenchanted"
Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven
Good intentions and strong themes do not always result in first-rate plays. “Boleros for the Disenchanted,” now enjoying its world premiere at Yale Rep, is a case in point. Playwright Jose Rivera explores the Puerto Rican immigrant experience from a different perspective, but the play itself disappoints. Although this reviewer can hardly challenge a Puerto Rican-born playwright as to his authenticity, the exchange between his characters comes across as false. The dialogue veers between awkward exchanges, tiresome repetition, and tedious speeches.
Rivera profiles one couple’s marriage, from its early days in Puerto Rico to final years in the States. Along the way, Rivera lays bare the attitudes, fears, prejudices, and problems which plague the marriage. Flora is a sheltered, naïve girl, who meets Eusebio by chance after recovering from an unhappy love affair. In no time, they are engaged, marry, and head for the States, over her parent’s protests. Life, “up north,” they insist, is riddled with crime, poverty, and degradation. In Act Two, the story leaps from 1953 to 1992, revealing the young couple in old age, coping with illness and bittersweet memories. Their longings for the old homeland is posed in sharp contrast with their immigrant life of 39 years.
Yet the production is not without its compensations. The stage set for Act One is a charming, flower-strewn world, spelled out in the bright colors of a Puerto Rican painting (courtesy of set designer Linda Buchanan). And several fine performances are forthcoming, with players switching roles in each act. In particular, Joe Minoso and Lucia Brawley meet the challenge beautifully, each creating two decidedly different personae. In fact, the play definitely picks up interest when Minoso appears on the scene. Gary Perez and Adriana Sevan do far better in the second act, when called upon to create the elderly couple. Sona Tatoyan and Felix Solis also do their best work in their final roles.
Certainly Rivera, in focusing on Puerto Rican immigration, has chosen a worthy and relevant topic, and tackled it from a unique view. Would that it were a better play!
-- -Irene Backalenick
May 3, 2008