KPBS AIRDATE: September 24, 1997
MUSIC, under and up: “Fight the Power”
Two plays, very different, same theme. Fight the power. Take back your birthright. Find your voice and get out from under the thumb of The Man. There are two sides of every fence. In “Holy Dirt,” it’s Latinos and Anglos. In “Demonology,” it’s women and men.
There may or may not be demons in “Demonology.” It all depends on whether you think the chaotic action exists in the real world or in the mind of a man spiraling out of control. Control is the cornerstone of the big, corporate baby food company where DeMartini is an executive. Things have been going fairly well since the unspoken disaster, when tainted powder caused the death of hundreds of babies. But then Gina shows up. Gina, the efficient, ambitious secretary with the tight skirts and the nursing baby at home. Gina, who expresses her milk in the ladies’ room and freezes it for later. Gina, who seems to metamorphose into the sex-slavemaster Xena, Greek, we’re told for stranger. Or are Xena, and the demon-child who haunts the hallways, just figments of DeMartini’s imagination, heightened since he started stealing and drinking Gina’s little bags of breast-milk? And where does Collins fit in? He who takes the term Male Chauvinist Pig to new porcine heights. He who makes obscene comments and plays at online virtual sex.
This is a woman’s world. Or a woman’s view of men’s view of the world. And it’s delicious. Los Angeles playwright Kelly Stuart has an ear for dialogue and a penchant for the absurd. And Kirsten Brandt has directed with a woman’s eye and a female touch. Perfect match. This is a lean, spare, focused production, set in David Ledsinger’s spectacularly sleek, cold, high-tech environment.
The play leaves a lot to the imagination, and a lot unresolved. There are routes, loops and pathways hinted at but not taken. Stay on the main track and you’ll have a helluva time. Just hearing Gina’s flip comebacks at Collins is worth the price of admission. Just seeing Julie Jacobs play Gina and Xena is worth twice the price. She’s amazing: sexy, funny, flexible, agile, irresistible. Ideal for Tim West’s De Martini, a tight-assed, obsessive bureaucrat who deserves every kick in the butt he gets. Ditto Josh Stoddard, excellently obnoxious as Skip. And as the eerie demon-child, young Barbara Koller has just the right insouciance and attitude.
I loved this production; it’s the most fun I’ve had at Sledgehammer since my first experience of “Seven Blowjobs.”
That’s a pretty sacrilegious segué to a play called “Holy Dirt.” Marcos Martinez wrote his autobiographical piece with Oregon playwright Cheney Ryan. It’s a story about coming of age and coming to terms — with his race, his religion, his activism and his acting career. Like many other Catholic pilgrims and Southwest Latinos, Martinez had a spiritual experience in New Mexico’s Sanctuario de Chimayó. Beyond the chapel, there’s a tiny room with a small well in the ground, filled with holy, healing dirt. People rub it on themselves, then leave their crutches and canes behind. Chimay’o is the “Lourdes of America.” In its shadow, Martinez becomes healed and whole, strong enough to stand up to manipulative or wrong-headed Anglos and Latinos.
A one-man show, however brief, is hard to sustain, but Martinez is a charming presence and a flexible actor, especially adept at accents and dialects. His material just isn’t deep enough, solid enough, engaging enough, except in fits and starts. Martinez, associate professor of Theater at Cal State San Marcos, and co-founder of Latino Ensemble de San Diego, gets to show some of his intensity, some of his humor, some of his talent and some of his life story. But not enough.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS Radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.