In a dark bar, two men are conversing. One of them, a politician, is telling the other, his campaign manager, about a recent rendezvous with a third man, a sexy but unscrupulous fellow with whom the politician is smitten. Suddenly, the politician says to his companion, "Let me show you what happened." He snaps his fingers and, as his companion looks on, the lighting shifts and the politician steps into a flashback sequence.
This peculiar device is the only bump in the road on an otherwise captivating theatrical journey. Guillermo Reyes' Places to Touch Him, in its première production by his own Teatro Bravo, is the playwright's most fully realized, most expertly crafted story in recent years.
The play is chockablock with extremely clever and provocative writing and a string of well-placed punch lines. But the laughs come at no expense to Reyes' human-rights message: He integrates his themes into the comedy, and when he takes to making larger points, especially in Act Two, the jokes stop long enough for some stunning statements to shine through.
Places to Touch Him tells the story of Cesar (Andrés Alcalá), a nerdy Latino lawyer and politician whose affair with Domingo (Alonso Minjarez), a street-smart sex worker, threatens his political career. When Domingo turns up needing legal assistance for his ailing father, who's about to be deported, and wants to move in with Cesar but not pay half the rent, Cesar and his audience begin to wonder: Is this love?
What's clear is that this is Reyes' most lucid, entertaining piece of writing since his much-lauded Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown, produced here in 2000. Tongues will be wagging about which local politician Reyes has based his hero on, but his story is about more than teasing us with gossip. Thanks to the witty dialogue and the superb cast Reyes has assembled to deliver it, the characters hold our interest even when we don't know who they're meant to be.
Places is a thoughtful, resonant and often very funny exploration of the nature of love and friendship that frequently moves beyond its broader messages on race relations and discrimination. There's the interplay between the two middle-aged men, Cesar and Matt (Bisk Consoli), whose friendship is bedeviled by an unrequited crush and enlivened by discussions of their lonely hearts. And there are amusing commentaries on the goofier aspects of the gay "scene," particularly a hilarious cowboy line dance at a political rally in Florence.
As Reyes' mouthpiece for Mexican-American rights, Domingo can sometimes sound too erudite for a youthful, front-lines activist from the barrio. But putting big words into the young hustler's mouth is Reyes' whole point: Not all young people of certain ethnicities are lowriding gangsters; not every sex worker is a brainless whore.
Brian Morphew's wonderfully spare and often empty set overflows with expert performances. Minjarez is pitch-perfect as the swaggering stripper who aspires to greater things, balancing wit and arrogance with ease. Alcalá brings warmth and a deep, rolling voice to Cesar, who might have become a cartoony geek in lesser hands. And Consoli is, as ever, a godsend to gay characters, trimming the excesses from a nervous nelly and delivering instead a kindhearted performance without a single swish.
Reyes fluidly choreographs longish and overlapping scenes, and we forgive him the tidy sweetness of his conclusion, because it brings with it an even sweeter revelation: We think we've been watching a morals tale, but in fact we've been watching a love story between two people who we've learned to root for as the curtain comes down.
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