Mostly motivated by fannish psychosis (as dubbed by M, who is usually right about these things), merisunshine36, ninhursag, and I went to go see Asuncion in New York City. The weather was gorgeous, and the food was great, and we even got to have lunch with azephirin. All that was awesome.
The play? Not so much.
To be fair, I spent a large portion of the play averting my eyes and trying to sink into the floor, and I guess what I'm saying is that this play took my embarrassment squick and walked right over it without being particularly funny at the same time.
This review is mostly about gathering my own thoughts. Therefore, there will be unmarked spoilers and uncontextualized ramblings about things. Sorry.
This is really what we're here to talk about, right? I think it's a lot harder for a play to be saved from bad writing than it is for a less talky medium like film or a shorter chunked medium like TV.
And the writing here just... wasn't very good. I read a lot of reviews that seem to grade the writing on a curve, and yes, it was occasionally very funny and occasionally there were some great lines ("Learn to speak Spanish, you're in America now."), but it's a play that has some decent wordplay and not much of anything else. The critics have already taken plotshots at the plot, which is all valid, but where the story really falls down is the characterization.
Let's start with Edgar, who is really the locus of my embarrassment squick (not really surprising, right?). He feels less like a person and more of an amalgamations of neuroses all wrapped up in a nice thick layer of self-loathing. He's that guy you hate to be around, because he's just that insufferable, and for all that it's intentional, there's nothing enjoyable about watching him for an hour and a half. It'd be one thing if he had a few more moments where the horribleness was toned down long enough for us to see him as a person, maybe understand why he feels the need be a smug, self-righteous asshole, but no, he's just unrelentingly horrible all the time.
Vinnie is also a pretty horrible as a human being, but he didn't trigger my embarrassment squick as badly. That was kind of a relief. I think some people were mentioning that Edgar and Vinnie's relationship is the center of the play, and while I agree, it's just part of why this whole thing didn't work for me. I didn't understand them at all. I didn't understand why Edgar wanted to sleep on Vinnie's beanbag, and I didn't understand why Vinnie let's Edgar stick around. The play makes vague gestures towards what it is ("You're my mentor." "If you went to Tanzania, you wouldn't be able to grade my papers."), but they feel shallow, tacked on. I guess it could be argued that they just really want to fuck each other, and the show deliberately states that as a possible reason a few times. It feels as tacked on as much as anything else. There either needed to be more of it or less of it, and I'm not sure which one would help out more.
I liked Asuncion as a character a lot better than I thought I would. It was hard to gauge how she came across in reviews, since no one seems to bother to give a shit about her characterization (I would like to take a moment to appreciate the irony here.) I enjoyed her relentless positivity in the face of shittiness. That was very refreshing. When talking about the play afterwards, merisunshine36 said that she felt like two different characters at times (one who would punch Edgar in the face and one who wouldn't). I think, mulling it over, that she spends so much time in the play trying to be what Edgar wants her to be that when she finds out exactly what he thinks of her, she stops trying and lets all of her natural resentment come out. (And I agree with merisunshine36 that she really should have punched him in the face.)
I don't have much to say about Stuart, except for the fact that ninhursag mentioned that when your Wall Street trader character is the most sympathetic person in the play, it's kind of embarrassing.
Plotwise, I agree that it's weak across the board. The acid trip incident was incredibly lazy writing. And also kind of stupid. It's the culmination of two plot threads (Edgar and Vinnie's relationship and Asuncion finding out that Edgar thinks that she's a mail-order-bride), but one of the weaknesses of the play is that the two plot threads feel entirely unconnected throughout most of the play. By the end, it feels like both storylines get shortchanged in this big, climactic scene, because the Asuncion storyline and the Edgar and Vinnie storyline are both vying for this time, and neither of them feels like they hit a particular interesting point.
Some reviewers criticized the fact that in the end, nothing really changes for Edgar. I didn't mind that as much, mostly because I find it 100% believable that Edgar isn't capable of change. What does annoy me is the fact that I don't feel like I understand him or his relationship to Vinnie any better than I did in the first scene. If the play doesn't really go anywhere, fine, but I'd like to feel like I actually went on a journey at the same time.
I hated everything about the OJ gag. Everything.
Overall, ninhursag mentioned that it felt like id-fic, just that it wasn't her id, and I think that sort of sums up a lot of problems with the play. I felt like I was watching someone work out their issues with how much they suck as a person and how much everyone hates them for it. That may or may not be true, but either way, it felt self-indulgent and irritating in its self-indulgence.
I think the acting was pretty uniformly decent across the board. Nothing mind-blowing here.
Camille Mana gets extra props for keeping her character high energy and exaggerated, but never really descending into caricature. That was a great balancing act to watch.
The squicky race issues
So. This was actually what I thought I would hate the most about the play, and it wasn't. Hooray for minor victories. I was hoping, going in, that the self-loathing would keep most of the issues at bay, and I think for the most part they did. (I am kind of annoyed that the reviewers seem to think that the real humor is due to the fact that Edgar is so overly PC that he's a horrible person, when really the problem is that Edgar is so overly PC that he doesn't understand the point of being PC, which is to not be a condescending douche to other people based on their race. I don't entirely blame the play for the fact that the reviewers are morons about this. Okay, maybe I do a little bit.)
I did like the fact that it's a play about trying not to be racist and how even with good intentions you can end up being seriously fucking racist. That is something that doesn't get tackled fairly often, and it was kind of weirdly nice to see a play based around that idea? Whatever else you can say about the play (and I've said quite a bit already), it lacks a certain amount of defensiveness that you see a lot of when white dudes grapple with their race issues.
On the other hand, there was quite a bit of one-off shittiness. It was difficult watching all this gross, disgusting stuff keep coming out of Edgar's mouth in an almost non-stop stream, even if we were supposed to find it loathesome. God, that was deeply unpleasant.
I think I hated it less than either merisunshine36 or ninhursag did. I was expecting some pain and some awkwardness and some discomfort, but it was a whole lot more than I ever wanted to deal with. Nothing else about the play justified it, either.
Too bad. I really wanted to enjoy it.
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