Mexican-born Victoria E. Calderon (I have never heard of her 'til now, but I am very glad I did) has written a little
gem of a new play - a mere 70 + minutes long, and it shines. Directed with lightning sensitivity and worked through (good,
REAL acting is work) by an utterly fine cast, this scenically well-designed, enchantingly sounded, excellently costumed, smartly
lighted 'MANIPULATION" in fact shines - glows - on all sides in this production.
place (somewhere) in the faux-modernist, expensive apartment of Cristina and Mauricio in Latin America, 'MANIPULATION"
bespeaks itself metaphorically, perhaps, of the unrest curdling through at least some of the daily lives of women, as personalized
in the experience of one Cristina (adroitly felt by actor Marina Squerciati). Fatherless Cristina, the main protagonist
of this sparkler, is married very young to the very moneyed, successful Mauricio. As far as I am concerned, - and partly
excepting Cristina's poor-ritzy mother's view of the world (this role of Beatriz is played luminously by Saundra Santiago),
this is not a "feminist" play; but, rather, a sort of "marriagist" one: the belief that marriage,
still a must-try thing to do in society, leaves many spouses believing in, and fearful of, being locked in - though
often admitting furtively that the institution of marriage is really just all too much, and all too other-centered for some
folks to bear. Yes, we can all be quite selfish at times.
Mauricio applies his manly-ish,
husbandly interest (ala "you have all the money you need") toward lonesome, under loved Cristina with that oft-infamous
carnal habit of quick get-it-over-with sex, while all the while offering patchy assurances of his love, Mauricio-wise speaking.
But Mauricio, as rendered by the perfectly-tuned craft of Robert Bogue, is a guy with his own problems. In fact, it
really isn't ONLY Cristina who is lonely (she lives out all her deeply repressed needs and regrets with high wired mental
flashes that are the actual play itself); everyone is lonely. I am lonely, you are lonely, we are all lonely, even if
we do love, for love sometimes goes missing from life's emotional tool box. Cristina hooks up with Luis (done extremely
right by Rafi Silver) a gifted pianist with hands that only a Cristina could love but which speaks volumes of her erstwhile
lonely marriage. And so, 'MANIPULATION" makes me wonder - reminds me again, that there may not be any exit
from this field of occasional, sometimes strangeness we call living, and that whether there are ghouls standing by us as we
continue our daily function or whether there is something better than this, who knows? There are literally a few ghoulish
types lurking in Cristina's world, to be sure. Cristina, who later finds respite in Poeta (a young, impoverished poet,
so-named, and done just right by Brendan McMahon), goes to see a shrink and tells him that she fears her husband. As
a possible comment on modern therapy - and medication - the shrink does not really help Cristina, and instead exasperates
the same fear she feels toward Mauricio. The shrink, "Dr. Lublitz" is deftly brought out by Jeremy Stiles Holmes,
and he's quite a shrink, and indeed, is clearly unfulfilled himself, no less. As per Cristina's lament to Dr. Lublitz,
well, therein lies the rub; how can we love something, or someone, that we fear? Alas, we really can't, and don't.
The dramatic effects by the exquisite light and sound work almost perfectly; one very minuscule complaint is that the lighting
transitions were ever so slightly long.
If a dream itself is but a shadow, then this "MANIPULATION"
casts a big one; Cristina's vivid dream reflection of living is painful and true. We see, at play's end, that Cristina
is in a museum (what better place is there to house the human condition?) gazing into a very famous painting that, ideally
or otherwise, sums up her existential woe. What she sees, and observes, in some certain measure, is all of us, you and
me, - and it's not pretty.
All the actors, including Gabriel Furman as Alejandro,
have made it clear: the play's the thing.
"MANIPULATION", brilliantly written
and handsomely staged at the Cherry Lane, runs through Sunday, August 21.
For Tickets and
Information: TEL.# 212.989.2020
"MANIPULATION", Written by
Victoria E. Calderon;
Directed by Will Pomerantz;
Lighting: Kirk Bookman; Sound:Jeremy Lee;
Costume Design: Alejo
Vietti; Scenic Design:
* Executive Director: Angelina