KPBS AIRDATE: July 5, 1995
People say that when you fall in love, time stands still. In “Cloud Tectonics,” when Aníbal de la Luna meets Celestina del Sol, one night lasts for two years. You might say the moon and the sun collide.
Outside, on the crazed Los Angeles streets, there’s dread in the air. “The storm of the century” is raging; men go off to war; The Big One, the ultimate temblor, finally comes. Inside, all the clocks have stopped. The interior changes are microcosmic, but monumental.
A down-to-earth, rational man, a baggage handler at LAX, has picked up a bedraggled, pregnant hitchhiker. She is searching for the man who knocked her up two years ago. She has no sense of time. She doesn’t give birth till forty years later. Gradually, as Aníbal falls for Celestina, he gets sucked into her magical reality. He begs her to stay; he makes her quesadillas. And just as the relationship starts to blossom, his long-lost brother Nelson arrives, a soldier ready for battle in Bosnia. Nelson sees nothing extraordinary in Celestina’s wild stories; he instantly falls in love with her — and her unborn child.
Time passes, and everything changes, except Celestina. She is the alchemical centerpiece of this magical play by José Rivera. The West coast version of his East coast apocalyptic vision, “Marisol,” which was stunningly produced at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1992, “Cloud Tectonics” is mystical and spiritual and sensual and sexy and funny… and an incredible theater experience.
Brilliantly directed by Tina Landau, the production reflects all the beautiful dichotomies of the play: Dramatic, provocative, set, sound and lighting that are at once realistic and other-worldly. Amorous, poetic language juxtaposed with the gritty, hard-boiled machismo of real brothers. A scientific title applied to the inexplicable, the ineffable, not just clouds, but love.
The play has a few flaws toward the end. Forty years later, what gives Celestina such emblems of wealth and class, and how could Aníbal possibly forget that unforgettable two-year night? We are left, at the end, as one is in love, seemingly able to understand everything but fearing that we understand nothing at all.
Whatever you think, or think you understand, you cannot help but be touched, moved, by the play and by these three luminous performances: Camilia Sanes as the transcendent Celestina; Luis Antonio Ramos as Aníbal, the gentle, funny non-believer who’s lost track of his cultural heritage; and Javi Mulero as Nelson, the he-man with a heart.
In the Puerto Rican world of the playwright and his characters, supernatural forces have day to day reality. “Magical realism,” Rivera told me recently, “is more an outlook than a literary device.”
We all live with the reality of uncertainty and the threat of disaster, but also the possibility of love. There’s enough magic out there for all of us.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.