The new play “Barcelona,” at People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, is like Las Ramblas, that city’s famous thoroughfare:It seems longer than it really is, and it has its fascinating parts, its cheesy parts and its dull ones.
“Barcenlona” by Bess Wohl, is being called “a rolling world premiere” at People’s Light. Its actual world premiere was last summer in Shepherdstown, W. Va., at the Contemporary American Theater Festival, and People’s Light is the first professional regional company to stage the play.
I have my qualms about “Barcelona,” but not about the intensity with which Jackson Gay stages it. Gay is a busy director who works around the country and with New York’s Primary Stages. She’s fortunate to have versatile People’s Light repertory member Julianna Zinkel and the darkly handsome Robert Montano in the two-person play.
The story involves a drunken, ditzy and disgustingly ignorant American woman at a bachelorette party in Barcelona who goes home from a bar with a Spanish man. She thinks the place is “cute” (a nice down-at-the-heels apartment set by James F. Pyne Jr.), the guy is “cute,” Spain is “cute” — it is her only working word of praise. Is she a metaphor for Americans abroad, or simply a besotted woman who happens to come from the United States?
He is out to make love, but so put off by his catch that it looks to be nearly impossible. He is also passionately anti-American, for possibly misplaced reasons but, hey, a lot of people think that the U.S. can do nothing right, for reasons that they believe are absolute truth. Is he a metaphor for Europeans, or simply a horny guy whop happens to hate Americans?
Their conversation evolves – or perhaps devolves – and I find myself so irritated by the woman, I couldn’t care less how the plot unfolds or whether she lives, dies, or merely continues to exist. Truth is, it’s hardly fulfilling to watch drunks of any nationality on stage for more than a little, just as it is in real life, and there is nothing even remotely interesting about this woman for the first half of the play. She pukes (offstage), he offers her wine to rinse out her mouth. He puts on a CD of the famous aria from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and all she can talk about is the brilliance of Cameron Diaz; he would snuff Diaz out, he says, and she rails against him for having third-world type CDs in this day and age.
And so it goes through the night. She cannot ultimately be anything but tempestuous, out of fear or ignorance or who knows what. He is mysterious and threatening in his aloofness, in the calm way he talks against American lifestyle and values. Finally – and far too late – she discovers something about the apartment and he latches onto something in their conversation and the play, which had been merely irritating, suddenly becomes arresting. I only wish it had happened earlier in this 90-minute one-act, before I’d stopped caring.
Zinkel is excellent in her role and, in fact, elevates the play – there’s no question that she’s playing a nice if confused American gal who’s worthless when drunk. (And who among us isn’t?) Montano’s quietly delivered portrayal shows the way understatement can unleash a primal power on the stage, as he goads, counters and dismisses this woman. In the end, “Barcelona” stayed with me because when the plot turns, it suddenly seems honest and real. But it wasn’t an altogether satisfying aftertaste._
“Barcelona” runs through June 30 at People’s Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. www.peopleslight.org or 610-644-3500.