If a really good play goes up in a forest, does anyone care? I stumbled into Matthews Acting Studio last Thursday in my usual state— disheveled, confused, busily muttering banalities to imaginary socialites while bundled in my button-less vintage coat. I shuffled into the theater not knowing what to expect, where I was, or what day or month it may or may not have been. I had no clear idea what the play was about. Something about assassins and nighttime and Che Guevara or something. I tried to take my cue from my fellow audience members—who numbered, maybe, six other people. A hearty half of those people consisted of Theatre Program staff: the managing director, the costume designer and the set designer respectively. Additionally, and without any satisfactory explanation, there was a garrulous Artifact of Vintage Princetonia—a red-faced, hoary old fellow who remarked before the show that he had been one of the few people in the world to have been an active member of the Quadrangle Club for six consecutive years due entirely to a technicality of the Great War. Other than a great passion for this play, which he suggested quite loudly to the rest of the audience was prime material for a musical adaptation, and an unparalleled streak at Quad, the reason was not clear why the man was at 185 Nassau Street that night. But we asked no questions for, discounting the stage crew, it was as sparse as it can get: Theatre people, myself and Captain Quad.
What a privileged few we were! I’ve had many dramatic experiences here at Princeton—as an actor, as an audience member, as a naturist caked in a mix of guano and chalk dust—and few have equaled the professionalism, the careful attention to craft, and the theatrical power of Rosemary Rodriguez’s production of Jose Triana’s Night of the Assassins. Even before the three actors took their place, the set commanded and kept my attention. Exotic, suffocating, mysterious and meticulously professional, the stage environment set the play’s agenda.
Well, what’s the play about? After a couple days of thinking, I’ve decided it’s Virginia C. Andrews’ “Flowers in the Attic” reinterpreted as a Santerian dream poem. If none of that makes sense, you’re not alone; I had to ask several people during the intermission what exactly was going on. That’s not so much a criticism of the play; though the program could have been scrubbed clean of a great deal of pretentious pseudo-academic babble and replaced by an edifying summary. Something akin to: “This play is about three children—a brother and two sisters— who are kept in their cruel parent’s basement. They live in Cuba. They play with knives. Enjoy the show.” Now that would have been helpful.
Nevertheless, nothing can prepare you for, much less explain, the powerful performances of Irene Lucio, Aliza Kennerly and Paulo Quiros. After nearly three hours of these people screaming, adopting accents, miming, crying, becoming possessed, getting exorcised—generally hopping about all nimbly-pimbly—even an audience of six quickly appreciates their manifest talent as actors. Kennerly is equally persuasive as the lone beacon of sanity on stage and as the master psychotic manipulator. Quiros, too, is equally effective, though sometimes too effective, in his rants/convulsions/conversions. Irene Lucio, however, was a standout among the stellar—her nuanced adoption of several accents and characters was nothing short of astonishing, and interest in her performance was never exhausted during this exhausting play. She could also win any number of Mambo drumming contests if she so desired.
See this play, children. Wonder what the heck this has to do with the Cuban Revolution. Wonder why old men can come into our halls so freely. Wonder how so talented a group of people can accomplish something so marvelous…and go unnoticed.
Student Tickets: 8 Dollars. February 19-21 at 8 PM. Matthews Acting Studio, 185 Nassau.