Rapists and Drug Dealers has nothing to do with rapists and drug dealers, except perhaps in the dim mind of a political wannabe. Nor is it a “metaphor for the immigrant experience,” as its playwright and director Tim Chamberlain asserts. It is a story about magic and fear, ambition and empathy…well, let me tell you some of what happens, and you decide.
Bill (Lee Ordeman) stalks the stage with almost unbearable intensity. He is wielding a great stick, with bad intentions. He spies a woman named Legend, who he will know as Linda (Sharalys Silva). He steps up to kill her. And then things get weird.
Rapists and Drug Dealers is best understood, and appreciated, as movement theater, with more narrative than a dance piece but a creature apart from conventional playwriting. The presence of graceful, stylized movement always invokes magic (Synetic, for example, is almost completely magic) and so it is here. As Bill attempts to deliver the coup de grace, Linda gracefully freezes him, and thereafter forces him backward, in fits and starts.
“I was sent to kill you,” he says. “You’re a witch. An ILLEGAL.”
The witch part certainly seems true, as she magically whisks him, and herself, from the mean streets of whatever city they’re in to an abandoned house in the countryside. She is aided by two assistant witches (Karen Morales and Andrea Fanta), invisible to Bill but visible to us. Linda telekinetically pushes him around, and the invisibles torment him by making buzzing noises near him, pinching his ears and slapping his fanny.
Thereafter, she feeds him, plays practical jokes on him, and gives cryptic answers to his fairly down-to-earth questions. To make matters more complicated, she gives those answers in Spanish, which he first doesn’t understand but later comprehends fully (all dialogue, including English translation of Spanish dialogue, is projected onto the back wall.)They eventually begin to enjoy each other a little, until the play takes an O. Henry-type turn at the end.
Rapists and Drug Dealers
Written, directed and choregraphed by Tim Chamberlain
Details and tickets
You begin to see the problem, I think. Bill’s bête noir is apparently illegal aliens, and in particular Mexicans, of which he believes Linda is one. He tells an impassioned story, toward the end of the play, about how some illegal aliens did him dirt. But Linda isn’t an illegal alien, she’s a woman with telekinetic powers, who tosses Bill around like a rag doll. More mutant than alien, we can easily see her as the heiress of the villains in a thousand science fiction films.
All right, Chamberlain has her speak Spanish. That only makes her a Spanish-speaking woman with telekinetic powers. By giving Linda such extraordinary gifts (and two powerful minions who never hide their contempt for Bill), Chamberlain makes it difficult for us to have the sympathy for Linda we need to have in order for Chamberlain to make what appears to be his larger point.
This storytelling disconnect shouldn’t cause you to miss the pleasures of the play, which include extraordinary work by Morales and Fanta. They move beautifully, but more to the point, they act with their bodies and faces (neither has any lines). They are clearly inhuman creatures, selfish and without empathy, but when fate deals them a bad hand at the end, their disappointment is palpable.
Silva and Ordeman also do good work; Ordeman is particularly impressive playing a man surprised by his own body as Linda casts her spell. Silva’s dialogue is entirely in Spanish, but whether you speak the language or not you can read her character by her expression and presence.
The technical, and particularly the wisely uncredited sound design, is a mess. Sounds start and stop suddenly like background noises on a poorly-designed video game. A musical number, irritatingly fuzzy, went on far too long.
Mr. Chamberlain needs to make a decision. If he wants to tell a story about the immigrant experience, examining both the dilemma of the immigrant and of the person who feels displaced, he should tell it. If he wants to tell a story about magic and disappointment, he should tell it. But they are different stories.
Finally, Mr. Chamberlain spends a great deal of his playwright’s notes talking about how bad Donald Trump will be for the country. I share his disgust with the presumptive Republican nominee and with the people who put him there, but art is not the same thing as polemics. An artist makes the point by opening our hearts to the human experience, rather than by denouncing a politician or a policy.
Rapists and Drug Dealers . Written and Directed by Tim Chamberlain. Featuring Sharalys Silva, Lee Ordeman, Karen Morales, and Andrea Fanta . Stage manager: Kala Granger.
Reviewer’s Note: Mr. Ordeman acted in my play, Dracula. A Love Story. in the 2014 Fringe. This has not affected my review of his work here.