Monday, November 30, 2009

Post No Bills

[First posted to Show Business Weekly]

Photo/Sandra Coudet

“It’s real when you hit bottom,” says Esteban (Teddy Cañez), who knows what he’s talking about. He was once the Mexican Johnny Cash and now busks in the Port Authority subway. “I don’t understand,” replies Reyna (Audrey Esparza), a nervy, orphaned runaway who—thanks to the gimmicky miracles of theatrical shorthand—has become this gruff loner’s protégée. Like all buddy dramas, in which two opposites come together and learn a valuable lesson from one another, Esteban comforts her: “Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.” However, playwright Mando Alvarado has yet to do so. Post No Bills has some good musical bits (composed by Sandra Rubio) and entertaining co-stars—the blind, urban sage Sal (John-Martin Green) and the late-twenties hipster Eddie (Wade Allain-Marcus)—Alvarado is too carefully following in the footsteps of other plays to ever risk hitting the bottom.

Too bad: his actors certainly seem game. Esparza is a coil of lightning, able to bunch herself in and then explode outward, and her childish goofiness helps to gloss over some of the weaker plot points. (One minute she’s threatening to stick a bazooka up his ass, the next she’s staying with him?) Cañez is naturally brooding, and his deep voice helps him show the pain of his music; these qualities help him surprise us each time he reveals a third dimension: Esteban’s feelings for Reyna. And though Sal and Eddie are written largely as devices for these two, Green finds the anger behind his comic relief, and Allain-Marcus turns his energy into an outsized shyness that works for his romance with Reyna and rivalry with Esteban.

It’s also a waste of Michael Ray Escamilla’s direction; the man knows how to spin a story with visuals, and he fills the empty gaps in Alvarado’s script with cute sight gags (watch Sal), but for the majority of the play, the set is just a blue-washed wall—the sort you see for subway construction. There’s terrific storytelling, both from him and designer Raul Abrego, when those walls part to reveal Esteban’s studio apartment, so it’s a shame that the play itself still seems to be under construction.

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