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Caesar Samayoa and Eric Jordan Young in Sacrifice to Eros
(Photo © Patrick Q.F. Barr)
There's potential in Frederick Timm's Sacrifice to Eros but it's pretty much obscured by bad dialogue, flawed acting, and uneven direction. A retelling of the Biblical tale of the prodigal son, the play has a strong plot and an intriguing premise. Timm re-sets the story during the height of the Great Depression on a failing Midwestern farm. Aging patriarch Pa (Jaime Sanchez) is dying, and wants his son Jesse (Caesar Samayoa), who ran off years before under mysterious circumstances, to return. Cliff (Don Clark Williams) is the son who stayed home to work the farm but he doesn't resent his brother; rather, he dreams of the day when Jesse will come home to help him work the land. When Jesse does return, however, he is confronted with all the reasons why he left in the first place, including his love for his friend and neighbor Tom (Eric Jordan Young).

Issues of sexuality, morality, and forgiveness are brought up in an intelligent manner, and Jesse's longing for acceptance and fear of rejection come across strongly. However, the language of the play itself is clunky; the characters tend to speak in overblown phrases such as "We've got death in the house" or "My world is crumbling down." Such lines provoke unintentional laughter because they don't ring true. Much of the dialogue is melodramatic and the characters are never developed enough to make them more than archetypes.

The acting is uneven. Samayoa injects a charming earnestness into his role while Pamela Dunlap is quite funny as Aunt Edna, whom everyone believes to be insane. Young has a solid stage presence but seems almost too self-assured to make his character -- who married a woman he didn't love to escape the idle gossip of the town -- completely believable. Sanchez is way too heavy-handed in his delivery and, at times, seems to have a shaky grasp on his lines. Williams only manages to hit two notes in his performance: soft-spoken resignation and enraged shouting. He also has a tendency to keep his hands on his hips while speaking and he looks extremely uncomfortable onstage. The worst offender, however, is Maria Helan Checa as Cliff's wife, Rita: She indicates and overplays all of her emotions and intentions to the point where it becomes almost painful to watch.

Director Marc Parees has not managed to pull the production together in a unified way. After establishing that the road to town goes through the audience and the way to the farm is an exit backstage, Parees inexplicably pulls a reversal during one scene and has Jesse exit through the audience while he is supposedly walking through the fields. The costumes (no designer is credited) are generic enough to evoke the period without being period specific -- but it's a bit odd that Cliff, who spends so much time working on the farm, should be able to keep his socks so immaculately white.

The most frustrating thing about the play is that it actually has a pretty good story. The relationship between Tom and Jesse is fraught with tension and desire, but the words get in the way. As the former lovers bare their feelings, Jesse comes out with cheesy lines like "Love will ruin you" and "I've given up on being happy; now I'm being realistic." Timm also has a penchant for long, over-explanatory speeches. Sacrifice to Eros is tremendously overwritten and, in its current state, does not make for a very viable stage production.

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