All Eyes and Ears
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
May 2, 2008
The fear that suddenly rushes down your spine when you're alone in the dark and realize that someone or something may be watching you or that someone or something might jump out and attack you can be extended into the fear of character assassination. After all, this sort of attack is an attack in the dark—you don't know what people are saying about you when you're not there. In All Eyes and Ears, playwright Rogelio Martinez brilliantly uses this fear to create a dynamic power struggle that stirs your senses scene by scene.
Set in the very early days after the Communist conversion of Cuba, the play tells the story of a family suddenly transplanted into a different world. Carmen, formerly a seamstress, is moved into a fancy new house and a position of power with a newly formed committee that is designed to work with the community but is actually more like a witch hunt. Her daughter, Yolanda, can't get enough of the new lifestyle while her husband, Emilio, can't let go of their old life. There is another person who can't let go—the young lady who lived in the house before Carmen and her family moved in. She's dead and she quite literally haunts them from the moment they arrive. Meanwhile, the local head of the committee, Alvaro, and a Russian diplomat prod Carmen to give them more information about her friends and family, making her feel conflicted and alone.
I really enjoyed the way Martinez plays on our fears. He uses the paranoia of eyes on you and whether it's the eyes of a ghost, your enemies, or those closest to you, the story keeps you slightly on edge.
Carmen is a great character. She drives the play with her determination never to backslide into poverty. She seems hypocritical with her acceptance of the materialism that she fought against, but for her it's really not about the fancy house and pretty dresses, it's about the power. And that's where Martinez's point comes across—all this power to the people, in the end, turns out to be just power to one individual who, once she has that power, will do what is necessary to hold on to it.
Martinez's dialogue is sharp and real but there are moments when he pulls back from truly making us sweat. There is so much sexual tension, but many scenes end before the tension starts to boil over. Director Eduardo Machado gives us a genuine and fluid production. One scene looks like a living Communist propaganda poster. The set and lighting (Maruti Evans) look good, but Michael Bevins's costumes really pull you into the era.
Terumi Matthews leads a great cast as the strong and determined Carmen. She does a stellar job showing us all her strengths and weaknesses while remaining endearing. Martín Solá plays her husband Emilio with very clear yearning and disillusionment. Christina Pumariega is the daughter Yolanda. She never fails to make you watch her and worry a little because she's so naïve and dangerous. I also liked Ed Vassallo as the lecherous Russian diplomat. He is very funny and a little scary.
This show has characters watching each other and us watching them, and it makes you wonder whose watching us. With all the surveillance these days, you never know. It's the good storytelling and this slightly unsettling feeling of paranoia that made All Eyes And Ears such a good time for me.