Single Carrot Theatre breaks in new digs with 'Tropic of X'

People anxious about seismic demographic shifts already under way in the Western Hemisphere may be a bit unnerved by Caridad Svich’s futuristic drama “The Tropic of X,” receiving its English-language premiere from Single Carrot Theatre — the company’s first venture in its temporary headquarters in the former home of Everyman Theatre.

The playwright’s vision conjures a world where North and South America have fused into a strange melange where languages and longings converge, or collide. The crudely hedonistic society that results comes with a violent undercurrent that some vague authoritarian power is ready to smash or exploit.
Amid the grime and slime of this cruel tomorrow, the old human impulse toward love and union can still break through, bringing with it the faintest tint of hope.

The intriguing, if not entirely persuasive, work has a little “A Clockwork Orange” in it, though with a Latin beat instead of Beethoven — a DJ spinning tracks, and official government lines, provides a connective soundtrack.

The staging, directed by Nathan A. Cooper, also suggests a touch of the vintage “Batman” TV series in the stylized fight scene early on (there’s even a baseball cap emblazoned with word “pow” on the brim).
With her Cuban, Spanish, Argentine and Croatian background, Svich obviously brings a keen perspective to issues of assimilation and alienation. “The Tropic of X” is all about identity — national, social, economic, and, most provocatively, sexual (gender-bending plays a major role here) — and how the things that define us can get pretty slippery.

What Svich doesn’t do is ...

build a satisfying structure for her ideas. As theater, the piece tends to sag or wander just when things get interesting. Scenes that seem headed toward something big or boggling are apt to fizzle and fade.
There isn’t that much spark or surprise in the surreal world being imagined here; with allusions to video arcades and the use of a Nerf gun, it has an odd retro quality.

The dialogue could also use more vibrancy (“Peel my grape” doesn’t seem like the most sexually suggestive line kids of the future would be using). When the play takes its darkest, most surreal turn, the language remains stubbornly flat.

That said, the Carrots plunge into the material with their usual, wholehearted commitment, which helps lift even the less effective stretches.

As two deadbeats who flit from video games to mugging tourists, when they are not thinking sex and drugs, Genevieve de Mahy (Maura) and Nathan Fulton (Mori) do vibrant work.

They both could use a wider range of physical gestures to convey youthful bravado, but they bring out the nervousness underneath the characters’ attitude and make it possible to sense the tenuous bond of affection between them.

Fulton is especially strong when, having fallen afoul of the law and forced to undergo the ultimate transformative therapy, he repeats the mantra he has been taught: “I want to forget. I want to cry. I want to dream ...”

As Kiki, the transgender hooker and drug dealer resigned to the pervasive obscenity of this grave new world, Jessica Garrett struts confidently and conveys an inner vulnerability. Paul Diem moves easily from seemingly innocent guy to scary guy. And Aldo Pantoja, gyrating in his perch above the stage, handles the DJ role with flair.

A committee of costumers devised the slightly offbeat outfits, and Lisi Stoessel designed the compact, graffiti-flecked set (sensitively lit by Lana Riggins).

The performance area has been configured to approximate the intimacy of the company’s former North Avenue location. Single Carrot will eventually move to a new venue taking shape in Remington, but the old Everyman space on Charles Street makes a great home for the time being.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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