There are a lot of spoiled people in Raul Castillo's sprawling Knives and Other Sharp Objects--that's the "point." Some are poor, like fifteen-year-old Beatrice (Noemi Del Rio), who can't sit still long enough to appreciate the sacrifices of her older sister, Alex (Joselin Reyes). Some are rich, like their cousin Lucy (Ana Nogueira), who has equal parts of her mother Lydia's (Candy Buckley) selfishness and her father Jaime's (Jaime Tirelli) stubborn laziness. And others are just carefree, like their other cousin, Loren (Amanda Perez), who picks up a much older soldier, Harvey (Ed Vassallo), at Hooters, only to later agree to sleep with his friend Perry (Angelo Rosso), lest he ship out to Iraq a virgin. But whereas August: Osage County showed that such displays could be demonstrative of greater issues (class, family, illness), Castillo's the truly spoiled one, giving in to Lucy's belief that "The actions are fine if you don't have to deal with the consequences."
Such is the fate of Alex and Beatrice, who leave Austin, Texas, almost exactly as they entered it, leaving the sudden melodrama of the second act--a marriage proposal, a mysterious and unredeemed crime--far behind them. At best, they've bonded a little, for Beatrice has seen her own shallowness reflected in Lucy, and Alex has seen just how tight she is compared to Loren, but Castillo can't sell a "happy family" built on the image of a broken home. It also doesn't account for the aimless, testosteronal subplots of hardassed men ("What do you want? A lick in the ass?"). Michael Ray Escamilla has to work entirely too hard as a comic and dramatic device--his character Manuel starts out begging Alex for a spare dress (did that disguise even work in Some Like It Hot?) and later begs his cousin, Eddie (David Anzuelo), not to drop him out of a helicopter. (Anzuelo has it rough, too; the only thing fleshed out about his character is that he's also a badass at gay bars.)
Perhaps in three acts, all those threads would lead somewhere sharp, but considering how forgettable Castillo's characters are, Knives and Other Sharp Objects could use some cuts instead. When things are restricted just to the family dynamics, director Felix Solis is able to play up the tension, using the long wooden width of Peter Ksander's set as if it were a chessboard--full of posturing, sure, but enough in advance that you don't see it coming. The cast tends to overact through the melodrama, but these focused moments give way to some nice work--for instance, when Manuel drops in unannounced on the family's private swimming pool, Buckley's Lydia pointedly covers up in a way that puts the embarassment squarely on his shoulders. Elsewhere, while a stolen-bike ride momentarily unites Lucy and Beatrice, Del Rio's confusion as Nogueira matter-of-factly explains the "three licks to a man's heart" tells us a whole lot about both girls's experience.
However, by avoiding specific consequences and sticking only to broad actions, Castillo barely scratches the surface. For all we know, Beatrice really did care more for her comic book collection than for her dying father--that's what happens when you use a butter knife to cut steak.
Thursday, April 16, 2009