A wealthy woman invites two strangers to her home for an unusual meal. We are in a postapocalyptic world of sirens, curfews, roadblocks, private security militias, and omninous police sweeps. The chaos outside is in surreal contrast to the fancy dining room within and its elegant hostess, Mayannah (Regina Aquino).
Mayannah’s guests were chosen because each possesses a feature reminescent of her dead parents; Rosemary (Monalisa Arias) has her father’s lovely green eyes while Ani (Amanda Thickpenny) has her mother’s lovely fair hands. The entrée for this creepy dinner party is tiger meat, since that is the animal that mauled her parents, and the guests are promised a huge financial reward “if you make it until the end of dessert.”
Each woman has a damaged and lonely soul and a desperate hunger to overcome her plight. The destitute Rosemary suffers from multiple personality disorder and longs for peace from the “brainpeople” in her mind; Ani has suffered romantic disappointment and longs for love; and Mayannah longs to overcome her grief for the beloved parents who died when she was eight.
Arias’ role as Rosemary calls on her to produce multiple characterizations in rapid order. It is difficult to make these characters distinct and the sheer number is perhaps a little excessive for the needs of the drama. More successful are Aquino’s captivating performance as the elegant yet troubled hostess and Thickpenny’s turn as the educated, nervous everywoman with the occasional pithy observation.
During the course of the dinner we learn more about the women through personal disclosures and philosophical musings. Some of this middle portion is a difficult slog as the details are less intrinsically interesting – more of a foundation for the play’s conclusion. The drama becomes a little formulaic as each woman is neatly given her portion of long disclosures.
Yet despite the play’s flaws, the story comes together marvelously and each actress rises to the occasion. The last of Rosemary’s many personalities is the most compelling and the reactions of Aquino to the miracle of the evening are memorable and touching.
Brainpeople is presented in the round in the Davis Theatre Lab, an intimate space with only two rows of seats. Director Catherine Tripp does a nice job keeping the action moving in this small space while still illuminating the demanding script. Justine Light’s elegant yet traditional dining room with Spanish influences properly complements the atmosphere of the piece.
José Rivera’s Brainpeople is a complex and challenging work, and while it may not be as poetic as his most acclaimed works seen here (the Obie-winning Marisol and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot), in this strong Rorschach production, the dinner party ultimately provides an intellectually and emotionally satisfying treat.
by José Rivera
directed by Catherine Tripp
produced by Rorschach Theatre
reviewed by Steven McKnight
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