Crowded Fire premieres Enrique Urueta's "psycho-Southern queer country dance tragedy"
A few months ago, Impact Theater premiered Enrique Urueta's Learn to Be Latina, a raucous satire of market-driven multiculturalism that pivoted on the ethnic dos-and-don'ts of the music industry. That production only partly prepares one for Crowded Fire's premiere of the Bay Area playwright's latest effort, Forever Never Comes. There's a notable strain here of the effervescent humor that propelled Latina (beginning with Forever 's blithe subtitle, A Psycho-Southern Queer Country Dance Tragedy), as well as a similar concern with the trials of cultural and sexual identity, familial roots, and the will to be oneself. But Forever is a darker, more complex story, a working-class gothic that draws inspiration from Urueta's own background as a gay Latino growing up in a small Virginia town. But if the play's reach is admirably wider, its focus is disappointingly fuzzier.
Its central character is Sandra (Marilet Martinez), a young Latina burdened with guilt after the suicide of her gay brother Ricardo (Shoresh Alaudini), and living again in semirural South Boston, Va., with her sad, widowed mother (Carla Pantoja) whose first language is somewhat ominously slipping away from her like her disintegrating family.
Sandra, stalked by a mysterious demon named the Fox Confessor (Lawrence Radecker), "has a debt to pay" associated with feelings of culpability for her brother's death, and Fox Confessor is keen to collect it, haunting her dreams (including in several ghostly folk dance sequences) and menacing her small circle of friends and loved ones. Although the other characters do not see him, we witness this mischievous, brooding underworld figure alternately pacing the stage or revealed, courtesy of Marilee Talkington's eerie video design, in isolated "snapshots" of the action that appear projected onto a screen at the back.
While running from what seems like the mythological incarnation of her grief-stricken conscience, Sandra reconnects hesitantly with ex-girlfriend Deborah, now called Dylan (a compelling Kathryn Zdan). A transgender preop bent on escape to San Francisco, Dylan is back in town to visit her pregnant unwed sis, Beth Ann (Marissa Keltie), on the eve of their parents' 25th wedding anniversary. Dylan remains smitten with Sandra. Sandra, however, seems almost as uncomfortable with Dylan's physical transformation as Dylan's mother (Michele Levy), a compulsively chatty, addled woman stunned into a rare moment of silence by the unexpected arrival of her one-time daughter.
Beth Ann, meanwhile, negotiates life with her oddball family; haunted best friend Sandra; and abusive, domineering boyfriend Hunter (a solid Daniel Petzold) while confining herself to soda pop at the local watering hole and doing her best not to smoke another Virginia Slim. Soon a tragic accident — if it is an accident and not the handiwork of the increasingly impatient Fox Confessor — throws everyone off-balance, and Dylan and Sandra back into each other's arms, while setting up a parallel between two grief-stricken households and their contrasting crises of identity and unity. As Fox Confessor stirs up more and more trouble, the way forward remains unclear, multiple possible endings hovering over the action thanks to an out-of-sequence scene in which Sandra and Dylan flee for the West Coast in a blood-stained car.
Sandra and Dylan's relationship adds momentum to the story, which otherwise tends to dissipate among its various subplots. Ironically, the central issue of Sandra's guilt and her debt to Fox Confessor lacks the requisite poignancy and urgency, at least partly because there's little sense of a relationship between Sandra and her deceased brother (who has only a flickering afterworld presence here, despite a key intervention near the end). The only hint of a tangible sibling connection comes when Sandra, in one of the more comical moments, repeats Ricardo's detailed impressions of San Francisco to Dylan, at length and seemingly verbatim.
Director Mary Guzmán (who also helmed Learn to Be Latina) gets some nice performances across a generally strong cast. But the staging — around Emily Greene's elegantly elemental thrust stage, complete with intermittent sheets of rain heralding Fox Confessor's serious mischief — can be lackluster. The dose of underworld dosey doe, for example, proves sluggish and repetitive, despite sound designer Colin Trevor's steady injections of the gorgeously moody songs of Neko Case. In the end, the play's defiantly romantic spirit has charm, but Forever Never Comes leaves too much hanging.
FOREVER NEVER COMES
Wed-Sat, 8 p.m. (through June 26), $10–$30
505 Natoma, SF