TRAFFICKING IN BROKEN HEARTS
Bailiwick Repertory at the Theatre Building
Trafficking in Broken Hearts, one of the offerings in Bailiwick's annual Pride Performance Series, is supposed to be a gritty sexual drama about the relationship between a Latino hustler and a white lawyer. But it's really a classic romantic fantasy, and the hustler, played by sexy Andrew Carrillo, is the whore with the heart of gold.
Although there's plenty of class and racial tension in Trafficking, playwright Edwin Sanchez prefers to use it only as decoration. Carrillo's Papo huffs and puffs in macho style, wondering if all white people eat out at expensive restaurants, and Brian (Christopher Adam), the white lawyer, agonizes about whether Papo just wants to use him as "an entry into the white world." But none of this is developed. The issues of race and class serve only to establish character--and these are incredibly stereotypical characters at that, if ultimately sympathetic.
Consider Papo: he's both sensual and sexual, the quintessential Latin lover, capable of getting it on seven times a day. We're supposed to believe he's a sexual magician terrified of emotion, yet everything in the play indicates he's not at all terrified. Although he's been hustling on Times Square since he was 15, Papo's still enough of a softie to take in Bobby (Woodrow James Bryant), a psychotic 17-year-old runaway. Years on the street haven't affected Papo's ability to fall in love, either: he does so at first grope with Brian, even though Brian is having a not particularly attractive anxiety attack. As if all this weren't enough, Sanchez actually wants us to believe that Papo sends his earnings from hustling home to his poor mother, who lives across the river in the Bronx.
By the time Papo and Brian get together at the end, we're not at all surprised that Papo's able to love. Instead we're wondering how the hell he survived all those years without getting eaten alive. The guy's a pussycat--not underneath it all, but right there on the surface.
Brian also fits neatly into a romantic racial stereotype. Stiff and repressed, he's just dying to bust loose. In fact, hidden under his suit is a black leather jockstrap bulging with manly passion. Brian is well mannered, well educated, well compensated, and well regarded by his peers. He's not happy, though, because what he needs is a hot Latin lover to set him on fire.
It isn't hard to figure out why Brian would be attracted to Papo yet terrified of him. It's a little tougher to get a handle on Papo's desire for Brian. It's even harder to believe that Papo would chase after him with such intensity. In the end it's probably Brian's offer--the opportunity for a home, rather than Brian himself--that's alluring to Papo.
That's unfortunate, because it sets up a situation where the white middle-class guy trades his financial assets for the Puerto Rican guy's sexual services. Trafficking in Broken Hearts isn't quite that crass, but once the sentimentality is stripped away that's the basic dynamic. Frankly these two don't have much in common; what they have is plenty of obstacles, which they never discuss. What happens is that they objectify each other.
Still, Carrillo is so charming that he nearly saves Sanchez's script. And Bryant as the whining, wacko runaway provides both pathos and comic relief throughout. Ultimately, though, Trafficking in Broken Hearts is a play that satisfies only if you're willing to ignore the sexual and racial stereotypes being tossed around and focus on the wish fulfillment it provides.
VOCES Y CUERPOS IV
Latino Experimental Theatre Company at Link's Hall
Latino Experimental Theatre Company's Voces y Cuerpos IV ("Voices and Bodies") trafficks in stereotypes too. They are subtler, in part because the stereotypes contained in the Latin American poetry chosen for the show are not as recognizable in an American context. But this production automatically attributes, without a trace of irony or cynicism, a stereotypical sensuality to women of African descent--a "racial characteristic" it lifts, without comment, right out of racist and sexist Latin American folklore. In Latin America itself the views presented in these poems are being challenged, but in LETC's production they're played straight.
This Spanish-language program, composed of six entries from last year's Voces y Cuerpos plus two new pieces, gives the most significant treatments to works by Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Nicolas Guillen. This year, and last year, the only contemporary Latino poet represented is Miguel Lopez-Lemus, LETC's artistic director.
In Jorge de Lima's "The Negress Fulo"--a holdover from last year's program--race, class, and sex collide when a slave owner's wife confronts the slave she suspects is her husband's mistress. But LETC plays it as a cat fight between women, not as a power play between classes or as a man's divide-and-conquer strategy. In Fortunato Vizcarrondo's "The Spaniard and the Negress," one of the new entries, a white man makes fun of an African woman's racial features, then falls for her because she's so sensual. That this piece offers women nothing but a sexual option seems to have escaped the director and the players, who revel in this misguided bit about passion.
The biggest atrocity, however, is Guillen's "The Capture of Antonio's Woman," the other new entry: a man demands that a woman married to someone else dance at his command. LETC plays this hypermacho piece completely straight. Its staging provides appropriate Afro-Cuban rhythms to accompany the piece but features a couple dancing in European ballroom style.
Voces y Cuerpos IV features seven pieces by six male writers, two of them involving white men's direct domination of black women, and one by a woman, a drippingly sentimental piece about lost love. Why present such blatantly sexist material? Why continue to underscore these horrible stereotypes of Latin machos and whores?
If it's the intention of the producers to present the classical canon, then why not offer some balance by including women poets such as Gabriela Mistral, Nancy Morejon, or Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz? "Against the Inconsequence of Men's Desires and Their Censure of Women for Faults Which They Themselves Have Caused" (better known as "Hombres necios," or "Stupid Men") is a nice little 18th-century classic by Cruz that might have begun to answer some of the sexism in Voces y Cuerpos IV.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Roger Lewin--Jennifer Girard Studio.