- Your Molotov Kisses (Tu Ternura Molotov)
by Gustavo Ott
Directed by Abel Lopez
Produced by GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Venezuelan playwright Gustavo Ott-highly regarded in the Latino community as a fresh, new voice-injects us with a truth serum that can make us squirm. In his latest comedy, Ott makes a passionate plea to balance extremes. His characters show us that since the advent of international Islamic terrorist attacks, whether it’s crazy or not, we all seem to be living with terror on our minds. Women can be more than sexy bombshells; they can be the bombs themselves. So let’s detonate all wrong-headed cultural biases. Let’s make love, not war.
Actors Menchu Esteban and Timothy Pabon deliver rapid-fire dialogue in elegantly synchronized performances that go beyond shock to fill us with awe. This black comedy starts light-hearted with a well-heeled, urbanized couple who live in a penthouse overlooking a cityscape that could be in any Westernized nation. Victoria, played with a carefree flamboyance by Esteban, is a television journalist who wants a child; Daniel, played with a laid-back but equally passionate charm by Timothy Pabon, is a lawyer employed in a prestigious law firm, who believes in flying saucers and life in other galaxies. Because this young couple can’t trust the randomness and meaninglessness of their lives, they are trying to make love at Victoria’s peak point of ovulation, based on their cultural preference for a son. Both are filled with conviction that timing is all, until a mysterious Fed Ex package, a backpack wrapped with rope, arrives from the FBI. From that point on, nothing can ever again be the same. Daniel, who is sort of a male Pandora, switches his obsession from the extraterrestrial to finding out what’s in the bag.
First, however, it helps understanding of what happens next to see that this dazzling, risk-taking theater piece is part of a great Latin American tradition-the theatre of the grotesque (teatro de grotesco), that is, a theater without masks, tied in with politics, that always starts with everyday ordinary reality that launches us into surreal territory. Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden’s contemporary modern set places us in a world of comfort, made up of white leather couches, primitive art on pedestals, a lit fireplace, an upstage telescope for Daniel’s scans for UFO’s. The only distortion is suggested by the oblique-angled wall to wall windows revealing a towering cityscape.
Within this context and background, director Abel Lopez does an amazing job in making this edgy fable so scary and real, it cuts to the bone. Production values, including lighting by Jason Cowperthwaite, are subtly integrated, right up to that ominous, climactic light show at the end. Add a bravo to that for Lopez’ excellent casting of Esteban and Pabon, two actors whose stage chemistry flows and makes two flawed human characters likeable.
Back to the story. It seems Victoria lost the backpack on a train in New York twelve years ago when she split up with her Muslim boyfriend. Because there’s a zone of discomfort, like racial profiling, religious bigotry and other ugly human assumptions, however, there’s enough explosive information in the backpack to blow a married life apart. An expensive camera with undeveloped film, a bottle of wine from a Ramani Prianka, addressed to Victoria as his wife unravels a well-constructed plot that’s like a conundrum. Secrets inside other secrets add up to a labyrinth of deceptions and misconceptions.
Because Victoria was married in a Muslim wedding she never took the time to get a divorce. Based on this revelation, Daniel assumes his wife was and perhaps still is a terrorist. All Muslims are terrorists, he believes, even though Victoria reveals at the beginning of her second act soliloquy, movingly enacted by Esteban to pin drop stillness, that even though Ramani talked about exploding oil refineries or assassinating presidents, like a radical fanatic, he broke down crying: “I couldn’t even step on a fly’s toes!” Eventually, the mystery character, Ramani does materialize as a voice through a telephone.
What’s more important, however, are Victoria and Daniel in soliloquy. They share parallel stories for Daniel conceals what he considers a shameful past as well. Becausehe, as a social worker, missed a day at work to interview for his law firm job, a child was beaten to death by his unobserved parents. Then the child was wrapped in bloody Winnie-the-Pooh sheets and thrown by the roadside. Like Chekhov’s gun in a first act, that bloody sheet is significant in Ott’s play. Because Daniel doesn’t have time to accept responsibility for a poverty-stricken child’s death; he survives by moving on. “We die a thousand deaths and come back to life five thousand times and get on with our lives. That’s the message.”
That message is key and reinforced in Act II. Hope is held out for a future with an upcoming generation who have no other worldly visions about laying down their lives for a Bible or a Koran. They simply want to get on with life and live happily ever after.
Esteban and Pabon are a joy to watch as they work their way through Ott’s crackling dialogue about killers and social workers who allow killing from a safe distance, whether it be in a school, a bus or train, or a home of domestic violence. Pretenses are stripped away to show us the raw, more disturbing vision of this so-called sophisticated, modern life.
At the end, Esteban and Pabon show us Victoria and Daniel as slightly sadder and wiser but just as passionate-until a second package arrives, this one addressed to Daniel.
There’s a similarity between the grotesque style in Molotov Kisses and Griselda Gambaro play, The Walls, (a February 2007 GALA production), about Argentina’s disappeared ones, another Latin American play that deals with a political situation. Victoria and Daniel in Molotov Kisses grow increasingly terrified by the sound of a door bell. They desperately cover up the past to get on with their lives, but what keeps us on seat’s edge is wonderment at the roller-coaster ride (the translation literally flies by overhead). What shocking information will interrupt their procreation next?
Running time: approx 1:45 with 1 intermission.
In Spanish with English sur-titles overhead
(Parent discretion advised: This is not a play for underage language learners.)
When: thru Feb 24
Where: GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square,* 3333 14th Street N.W., Washington D.C., 20010. Parking available at a discount in the Giant parking garage on Park Road N.W.
Tickets: $30 on Thursday and Sundays; $34 on Friday and Saturday. Seniors and Students (65+) and military $20 (Thursday/Sunday); $26 (Fridays/Saturdays) Discounts available for groups of 10 or more.
Info: Call (800) 494-8497; (202) 234-7174. Or visit the website.