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Jarring 'Barcelo on the Rocks' continues Raices' roll

The Raíces Theatre Company is on a roll with its latest production, the English language world premiere of Marco Antonio Rodríguez’s “Barceló on the Rocks.” It is directed with grit and precision by Raíces artistic director Victoria Pérez.

Digging deep into their Latinx history and identity, the play shines light on those left behind by South American political conflict and the culture’s conservative mores. In that light, nudging through a narrow doorway, we see a new generation’s opportunity to evolve and correct injustice. It is humility in action, and a beautiful thing to witness.

Rodríguez’s script, adapted from his own Spanish-language original, is part family drama, part fantasy.

Rolando Martin Gómez plays Nino Antonio Cruz, a Dominican man now living in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Between his two sons, one has assimilated into street culture, and the other, bound to his promising future in the arts. Nino is at odds with both boys about their paths, and not so quiet about his disapproval.

He saunters around their tiny apartment in a bathrobe, pouring himself courage and spitting out orders. He is not an easy man to love, but one whom the boys cannot ignore. A recent medical diagnosis has him seeing mortality in every corner, out every window. He looks at the stars and nostalgically sees his youth in his homeland, the one torn apart by civil unrest and political warfare.

Gómez hits a triggering nerve for anyone watching with daddy issues—or maybe it’s just me. His force walks that delicate paternal ledge between terror and sadness. Like his boys, I wanted to run from and to him.

He is especially adept at transitioning between the arguments of the moment and the memories of his youth, which thanks to Nicholas Quinn’s evocative lighting and Pérez’s sound design, drip like melting ice cream in a hazy sunset. Gómez’s face morphs as if floating away into sedation.

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Alejandro Gómez and Jordan Rosas both bring visceral and extemporaneous energy as his opposing sons; they are terrific. Victor Morales is a reassuring presence as Nino’s revolutionary brother. And Jake Hayes, in a role I’ll let the play explain, is a touching antidote to these otherwise tense proceedings.

The one role I had trouble with was that of a visiting mysterious figure, a supposed messenger of death, played with mid-century cool by Dewel Pérez. The script doesn’t articulate his interjecting nuisance quite sharply enough, and Pérez doesn’t do much to help interpret it.

The role appears to signal a ghostly aura from Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” something that might make more sense once you see it. (I also got a whiff of Manuel Puig’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman” here, too, thought that may be more circumstantial.)

Despite this, I found the performance I attended on opening weekend to be especially jarring in all the ways the playwright intended. It’s always disappointing when a hurt protagonist screams more on the script’s page than on the lit stage, when they only bleed in theory and not in practice. Under the compassionate and thoughtful eye of director Pérez, these men cry to the moon and back, aching for relief.

It’s a good thing we’re listening.

THEATER REVIEW

“Barceló on the Rocks” by Marco Antonio Rodríguez

3.5 stars (out of four)

Runs through Dec. 16 - check for dates and times - through the Raíces Theatre Company at The Manny Fried Playhouse, 255 Great Arrow Ave. Tickets, which range from $20 to $25, are available online, by phone, and at the box office (381-9333). 

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