Lyrical and haunting, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas’ Blind Mouth Singing is currently being given an exquisitely beautiful New York premiere by the National Asian American Theatre Company at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.
In the play, Reiderico (Jon Norman Schneider) visits his best friend Lucero (Alexis Camins), who lives at the bottom of a well. No one else can see him, including Reiderico’s mother (Mia Katigbak), his aunt Bolivia (Sue Jean Kim), or his brother Gordi (Orville Mendoza). As a hurricane — both figurative and literal — threatens to blow through the family’s island home, Reiderico and Lucero decide to switch places. However, once he’s freed from the confines of the well, Lucero isn’t too keen on returning to it.
The play is firmly entrenched in magical realism, and the production has the feel of a heightened reality. How either Reiderico or Lucero survive while in the well is not a concern. Lucero’s ability to pass as his friend once he’s out of the well is also unquestioned, beyond Reiderico’s loaning of his name and clothing. It’s hinted that the two young men are alternate versions of one another, but there is also a strong homoerotic undercurrent between the two. Reiderico repeatedly comments on his friend’s beautiful eyes, and later, Lucero expresses his desire to kiss soldiers, reinforcing that he, too, feels same-sex attraction.
Cortiñas’ use of language is, at times, sublimely poetic. One of the highlights of the play is a scene in which Bolivia and Lucero discuss how fireflies light up in order to find one another, and then afterwards, “they pull the darkness over themselves for privacy.”
Schneider’s Reiderico is insecure and whiny, and the actor’s performance inspires sympathy, as well as frustration with the character’s lack of resolve. The handsome Camins captures both Lucero’s sensuality and confidence. Katigbak projects an outward coldness and indifference that hides an emotionally vulnerable interior. Kim brings out the play’s humor — particularly when describing her occupation as a treater of syphilis — while also conveying Bolivia’s frustrated desires. On the downside, Mendoza plays Gordi too much on the surface, and is unable to make the character’s darker turn towards the end of the play believable.
Director Ruben Polendo’s measured pacing, occasionally broken by actors running, concentrates the focus of the action and creates a palpable dramatic tension. Zach Zirlin’s evocative set is dominated by a large industrial fan and a long, narrow trough of water that stands in for the well. Kate Ashton’s lighting design makes good use of shadows, with light often pouring in from offstage sources rather than being shone directly onto the stage. Jane Shaw’s sound design, which includes an amplified echo effect in and around the well, is enhanced by the live performance of foley artist/musician Adam Cochran. All of these elements combine to create a cumulative effect that is both stylish and striking.