Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fringe/Just Don't Touch Me, Amigo

As himself--or rather as "Pedro," the would-be actor who has immigrated from Buenos Aires--Fernando Gambaroni is pretty funny, innocently mocking US ("It's OK, you're American, you don't need to know where Brazil is") even as he lovingly embraces its contradictory ideals ("He says he lives in a project, so I guess it's not finished yet"). Unfortunately, Just Don't Touch Me, Amigo wants to fry bigger fish, which is a problem for Gambaroni, who is going at it alone.

It doesn't matter that all his characters--especially Catherine, a Kansan in New York--sound like Pedro and have his hand-flapping mannerisms. The issue is that he tries to engage these facets in conversation: awkwardly shuffling from seat to seat, often shedding (or donning) a prop as he does so. Director Jose Zayas does his best to make it quick and endearing, and Gambaroni has a nice self-effacing charm, but the effect is sloppy. For sillier moments, like a blind date between Pedro and the sun-glassed, straightforward David ("I'm bi...polar, but I'm on medication, so it's under control"), this works. But the real meat of the play--an argument about the difference between origin and ethnicity--lacks momentum, and ends up reducing Pedro's opponent into a paper-thin construct who can only offer up the ooze of contempt as a rebuttal. (Never mind that Pedro all but breaks character to take on a far-from-naive righteous indignation.)

Despite these flaws, Don't Touch Me, Amigo has some bold thoughts on the invisible lines that we create to segregate and identify ourselves, when the truth is that anyone living here is just American, period. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "Return to Sender" and 5 being "Special Visa," Don't Touch Me, Amgio gets a 2.5.

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