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Teresa's Ecstasy

Begonya Plaza's new play is full of ideas, but they're not woven into the fabric of the characters' relationships. logo
Shawn Elliott and Begonya Plaza
in Teresa's Ecstasy
(© Carol Rosegg)
The biggest issue with the world premiere of Begonya Plaza's Teresa's Ecstasy, now at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is that the three actors, under the direction of Will Pomerantz, are stylistically in different plays.

Veteran actor Shawn Elliott reveals strong, naturalistic dimensions to his purposefully understated portrayal of Andrés, a self-centered Barcelona painter being delivered divorce papers. Plaza punctuates her role as the estranged wife, Carlotta, with inorganic reactions that disrupt the timing of her scenes. And Linda Larkin gives a shallow performance as Becky, a friend to Carlotta and an antagonist to Andrés.

The second thing you notice about this work is that it's a debate play that's simultaneously about too much and too little. Plaza has strong opinions on a wide range of topics, from the nature of talent to the proper time of day to drink. But she plunks these observations in rather than weave them seamlessly and believably into the fabric of the play.

For example, Andrés and Carlotta's relationship goes back years but, when you hear them serve as the playwright's mouthpiece on various topics, it's tempting to feel that they are meeting for the first time.

One of the central points of discussion is the life of the eponymous Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century saint who is legendary for her ecstatic and intriguingly erotic visions. Carlotta, in a heavy-handed plot contrivance, has returned to Spain to research the life of Teresa for a magazine article, just at the moment that she's due for some ecstatic revelations of her own.

Unfortunately, when those revelations occur, they are accompanied by the language of a soap opera, albeit one with artsy aspirations, complete with literary namedropping and references to the inner child. "There's something I have to tell you," she declares to Andrés, and you half expect a pipe organ to sound dramatically.

This would all be more palatable if the relationships at the center of the drama were charged with chemistry. But none of them are -- especially, Carlotta's increasingly important bonds with Becky, which take flight in a moment that should be the most dramatic event of the play but is only half-heartedly pantomimed after the fact.

The playwright clearly has a compelling interest in Teresa of Avila and, through her characters, shares an interesting fact or two about the mystic's life. But it seems like she wanted to write a play about Teresa herself, then backed down in favor of more pedestrian subjects.

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