The XXXotika Review
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
August 23, 2006
The XXXotica Review is a work in progress, written by and starring New Orleans native Carmen Barika. The piece chronicles the impact made in the life of fledgling writer and confirmed exploiter, Sigmund, by displaced exotic dancer, XXXotica.
Having drifted north from Katrina-wrecked New Orleans, XXXotica is now performing on the streets. She is taken in (literally and figuratively) by Sigmund, who promises to make her a star in his indie XXX video. She moves in with him, acquires an ersatz manager Jimmy (oddly designated "the heckler" in the program but played with confident conviction by Dominic Marcus), while another character, Poet Boy, floats in and out of the action. Make no mistake though, despite having Sigmund narrate most of the piece, this play is about XXXotica and the other characters are satellites.
As staged by Aixa Kendrick, although the actors make good use of the space, they are still at the mercy of the production's many random impulses. In developing this piece, I wish that Kendrick has sharpened the shape of The XXXotica Review more. It meanders a lot and can be hard to follow. Political points are haphazardly thrown about in the show. Nascent ideas abound but then they just hang there. Too many elements are not clearly incorporated and that lack slows the production down. It feels as if while finding her voice, Barika is still including every thought she can utter.
Also, there is a tendency to have Sigmund tell the audience what is going to happen and then immediately repeat that information in dialogue; as well as giving away information the audience hasn't earned yet. And these missteps are frustrating because Barika has also created some very strong moments. Late in the piece Sigmund and XXXotica have a brief conversation about where she is going. In this moment, Barika manages to take the too-often hackneyed concept of "home" and create a powerful, effective moment of theatre—without explaining how the audience should feel about it.
Barika's strong skills as a performer mitigate the frustratingly vague narrative thread of this play. Her street burlesque performances are the highlight of the production. They have a biting wit and focus that firmly and deftly pull the audience back in. Barika is a bold performer, who doesn't back off her material and is most successful in making a point when performing these satiric and sexy pieces. Her delivery has a lightness here that would have benefited the rest of the play. (And you will never look at a George Bush mask the same way again.) She has a lot going on and when it's decisive and focused; there is a glimpse of the artist to come.