Knives and Other Sharp Objects
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
April 10, 2009
Knives and Other Sharp Objects feels like a beautiful road trip—it's all about the journey. The play passes through territories of family, love, and the concept of "home," but it doesn't stop for long anywhere along the way. Playwright Raúl Castillo doesn't seem interested in resolving the conflicts he presents. The plot takes a backseat to character exploration with dialogue riding shotgun. What we get is a wonderful tour through great lines, outrageous humor, and beautifully performed moments. Fittingly the play both begins and ends on the road.
In the hilarious first scene we see Bea (a young 14-year-old) venting her squirmy boredom on a bus chaperoned by her patient and much older sister Alex. They are traveling from the "border town" of Mission, Texas up to Austin at their father's behest while he dies of cancer back home. Bea is pessimistic and ornery while Alex is tough and patient. On the bus they meet Manuel, a desperate man running for his life and begging odd favors.
In Austin the sisters stay with their estranged Mexican Uncle Jaime, their haughty American Aunt Lydia, and their cousins: Lucy and Loren. Lucy is about Bea's age and a trouble-maker following in her father's footsteps. Loren is loose, shallow, deliciously vain, and I'm guessing about 22. The family is wealthier than Bea and Alex's in Mission (as Aunt Lydia repeatedly reminds them) but has fallen on stressful times since Uncle Jaime lost his job. Jaime embraces his visiting nieces because they make him feel more connected with his roots, while the rest of his family treats them as embarrassing pariahs whom they hope won't be staying for long.
Another reunion in Austin is between Manuel and his uber-macho cousin Eddie, played by the hilarious LAByrinth veteran David Anzuelo. Their relationship, though based on a brotherly upbringing, is fraught with violence and the stress of the vague crime world that has Manuel on the run. It nicely mirrors the prickly experience the Mission sisters have in their aunt and uncle's home. In this play, family is not a haven from cruelty. As the title implies, knives aren't the only sharp edges in a household. This baggage doesn't endear Austin to any of these travelers!
There is also a story line involving some soldiers that Loren is romantically involved with. This seems to be an excuse for some very funny scenes and to give her character more (welcome) stage time. But the heart of the play is with the travelers who came up on the bus, and at over two hours could stand some trimming.
However if, like me, you mostly seek great dialogue and great acting at the theater, you should get a ticket for this ride. Joselin Reyes's strong performance as Alex anchors the whole play. Her work is very honest, detailed, and utterly believable. Her character is full of love and spends most of the play near the breaking point of heartache. In great contrast to how grounded Reyes's Alex is, Michael Ray Escamilla's Manuel is delicately, tragically floating along, lost. In addition to this near-ethereal effect, his comedic moments are fantastically absurd and his timing is pure genius. Each member of this ensemble cast is excellent, and each character is fully, uniquely, joyously defined. It is a great opportunity to see wonderful actors mine the heck out of a wonderful script.
The play isn't perfect, but according to the program it's a "work in progress" as part of the Public's LAB series. Of course this "stripped-down" show at the Public is more expensively tech-ed out than most New York Not-Broadway theaters can afford for their mainstage. What this means is that you can see top-notch LAByrinth theater artists in splendid action for just $10 a ticket. So hit the road, it's worth the trip.