Marina Squerciati and Robert Bogue
in Manipulatin
(© Carol Rosegg)
Marina Squerciati and Robert Bogue
in Manipulatin
(© Carol Rosegg)
Victoria E. Calderon's playwriting debut, Manipulation, now at the Cherry Lane, begins promisingly enough with an intriguing non-verbal bit with marionettes. It's offbeat enough to intrigue while introducing us to its protagonist, Cristina (Marina Squerciati), a pretty Mexican socialite with a vivid imagination. Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there.

Cristina's mother, Beatriz (Saundra Santiago), disturbs the silence, appearing suddenly from upstage to deliver her first of many oppressively preachy monologues in which she gives advice to her daughter (and us) about how to keep a marriage together. She advises Cristina to counter her husband, Mauricio's (Robert Bogue) infidelities with some of her own but warns her daughter not to get attached to these extra men.

It's obviously terrible advice, and surprise, Cristina does get attached. However, Squerciati plays her with a maddening emptiness that defies her character's actions. We learn later (in repetitive concurrent scenes with a therapist) that she might be depressed, yet it's hardly a satisfying revelation. Mauricio is baffled by his wife's emotions and can't even understand why she's upset over his cheating.

Depressed characters are especially difficult to bring to life onstage because of the challenging nature of turning their inward struggle out for us to see and emphasize, and Calderon isn't able to let us into her character in any meaningful way. Director Will Pomerantz's attempts to communicate these emotions visually often result in awkward gestures that fall flat.

Manipulation is full of overblown, soap-opera emotions but without any of the plot twists, except for one at the end that is laughably far-fetched. Throughout the eternally long 75-minutes, we never get the sense of going anywhere. Instead, we meander around well-trod territory as we begin to feel trapped inside of a Sylvia Plath fan fiction.