The title of Roy Arias’ new play, Sex on the Beach, now at the Times Square Arts Center, suggests a hot summer entertainment. The play, however, is not so much hot as it is heated. Playing three different island prostitutes (from three different Caribbean islands), Arias has his characters talking with anger, passion, and a good deal of attitude about their lives and their work in this highly charged piece of stagecraft.
As La Caramelo, Arias (in drag) comes storming on to the beachfront set to start the show, all huffy and upset at having been forced to move from her previous location. Having been rejected by the female hustlers who work the other end of the beach, La Caramelo is in a rage and we hear her complaints in a torrent of accented English and the occasional Spanish epithet. Be forewarned that it might take a while for the ear to become accustomed to the language and its rhythms. Moreover, since Arias is a big, broad-shouldered man, his physicality works against him in this segment.
However, when he re-appears as Brazo E Nino in a sharp suit, and puts on the walk and talk of a slick gay hustler, he is more credible. Here, his physical movements — such as his arms moving almost like a boxer’s jabs when he makes his points — help to define the character and give him dimension.
His third turn, as Esperanza, a more sophisticated lady of the night, works better for Arias, as well. He plays this character in a more languid manner, sitting in a chair. She is perhaps his most original creation; no wonder that Arias leaves her for last.
These three short one-person playlets are interspersed with two appearances by Natalia Peguero, who comes out to perform Spanish-language torch songs on stage while Arias changes his costumes. There is no direct connection made between Peguero’s appearances and what is happening on stage with the characters that Arias is playing; her performances read as strictly time fillers. Happily, she has a good voice, but the device of having her there to perform could have been more integrated into the piece.
The show is directed by Alfred Preisser, who has done much better work elsewhere. His perfunctory effort is also reflected by the ordinary set design by Samantha Shoffner and the lighting design by Tracy Wertheimer. Only the costume designer, Mia Stephenson, gets to show off her creative chops with her three distinctive takes on the costuming of Arias’ characters.