Rancho Viejo: A Joke I Didn’t Quite Get
The cast is perfect in their comic delivery, each delivering with an exacting characterization. Julia Duffy is spot on with every line, Mare Winningham wonderfully depressed and sincere, Lusia Strus spectacularly oblivious and dry, and I could go on about each and every one: Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Mark Blum, Ruth Aguilar, Mark Zeisler, Bill Buell, and Ethan Dubin. All wonderful, seasoned professionals, playing the words written perfectly. They give us an odd assortment of characters showcasing all kinds of detachment, passive aggressiveness, and cruelty to one another, along side honesty, care, and a certain amount of devotion,
even on the most superficial level. The lines and actions are delivered with an extreme version of realism, exaggerated but plausible. I just wish there was a point to all the words they were saying to each other, or that the play was as good as this ensemble.
The impeccable set (scenic design: Dane Laffrey, costume design: Jessica Pabst, lighting design: Matt Frey) for the first two acts is a uniform living room that sits in for all the characters’ different homes. This sterile space where all the characters reside, seems to be seen differently by the characters, in a similar way they seem to think of themselves as different from all the rest. But in fact, they all are uniquely the same, eventhough they seem to see, think, and talk about their differences. We just see that same bland space and the same bland people.
At least Act III gives us some alteration to what was happening in the first two. A strange experience in a surreal landscape between Pete and Tate. The ‘quest for happiness’ meets ‘death’? I don’t know. Is this a similar meditation or exploration on being lost in the quest for happiness? I’m not sure about that either, and at one point, I stopped caring one way or another. For the most part, I felt like the one of the characters in the play at one of their many gatherings. The Spanish speaking Anita, played with a dead seriousness by Aguilar, is telling them a long winded story in a fast paced Spanish about a parrot that isn’t a parrot. You don’t really understand the story, but you can tell where the funny bits are cause she’s laughing. The point needs to be explained to you after by an interpreter, her husband, Mike (Buell), who speaks the most American sounding Spanish you have ever heard. And in the discussion after, the story has lost most of its charm and humor. It just leaves you with more questions, rather then answers. And very little investment.