It's amazing what can be accomplished on stage with nothing but an extraordinary actor, a guitar, and a generic black box. In Generic Magic Realism, Ed Malin's new play at FRIGID New York, Nat Cassidy holds us spellbound for an hour as he portrays Octavio, a Chilean farmer who runs away from home and has some remarkable (and, yes, magical) adventures on a ship whose cargo is bird guano and then in San Francisco during the summer of 1968. Malin's script is hilarious and insightful and wise, and Cassidy, directed stylishly and intelligently by frequent collaborator DeLisa White, is by turns luminous and illuminating as the cheerful, life-embracing South American wanderer.
Generic Magic Realism (just published on Indie Theater Now) is a gentle parody of the magic realist style and an off-kilter exemplar of it as well. Octavio, like a character in a South American novel, encounters the unexpected everywhere in his life, so much so that he starts to expect it; his journey into the Summer of Love in the City by the Bay, filled with hippies, Grateful Dead groupies, druggies, gay libbers, and other representatives of humanity unfamiliar to a young man who has spent his life among goats and "bovines," affects him profoundly yet doesn't alter him in any fundamental way. (It takes love to do that: the last section of the play introduces us to a surprising young woman named Moira who will help Octavio discover that vital truth.)
Cassidy invests Octavio with a childlike sense of wonder that's downright infectious; even though this is a performance that's highly physical and often outsized, he maintains a splendid and delightful intimacy with the audience (obviously facilitated by the diminutive size and potent karma of the venue, The Red Room, which sadly will be leaving the Horse Trade theater roster next month). Cassidy's Octavio punctuates the jokes in Malin's frequently non-sequitur script with a sweetly guileless smile, and often also with a riff on the guitar that he occasionally strums to accompany and amplify his narrative. He also brings the other inhabitants of Octavio's tale to vivid life with strongly realized voices and characterizations.
White and Malin shrewdly let the words and the speaker make the magic promised by the title, unfettered and free, just as Octavio himself longs to be.