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A CurtainUp Review

Barefoot Boy With Shoes On

by Les Gutman

When we hear the abbreviation "SRO" on West 45th Street,  we usually associate it with the smiling face of a producer; Standing Room Only. But the SRO that inspires Edwin Sánchez's thoughtful new play does not engender much in the way of happiness. It's the Single Room Occupancy in which the males of three generations of the Cortez Family must coëxist. 

For the older generations, existence means acceptance. "God punishes people who want too much," says Pops (Lazaro Perez), a widower whose function it is to look after his own frail father, Buelo (Jaime Sanchez). They sit in the room watching porno; Buelo likes playing numbers. 

But Barefoot Boy focuses on the youngest Cortez, Rosario (Nelson Vasquez). He rejects the Spanish-speaking Buelo's "willful ignorance," and resents that his own father for not having dreamed. Rosario is determined to give his own son (his estranged girlfriend, Vicky (Abigail López) is pregnant) a different, better life. 

It's a painfully difficult goal. He has a violent streak, and has beaten Vicky. Although she left him, they are seeing a counselor, Dr. Morton (Keith Reddin). They are making no progress. Vicky is now seeing someone else, and infuriating Rosario further by claiming the baby is not his. Dr. Morton moonlights as a baby seller, secretly offering her $15,000 for the child. 

Rosario sees what he wants for his son; he works as a window washer at buildings occupied by rich people. It is while working that he meets Morris (Dennis Parlato), a closeted political strategist who has a fetish for Rosario's worn clothes. He takes Morris's $100 bills, but what he really wants is advice: "What did you do to get this?" 

Barefoot Boy covers terrain that many other plays have also explored. Sánchez, however, is able to depict the divergent forces that operate in an urban environment in an arc that doesn't get bogged down in any one. The effect is as honest as it is believable. He does not shrink from unpleasant realities, but is not consumed by them either. His work is rooted in a Latin sensibility that seems integral without being overpowering. It can be elegant and poetic but, in contrast to his earlier play, Clean (my review linked below), not at the expense of the story-telling. An improvement, yes; perfection, no. Barefoot Boy still reaches its conclusion a bit too conveniently.  

Sánchez has also written a play that is challenging to stage, with scenes that move rapidly between as many as six (by my count) locations. Casey Childs has reacted creatively, using Walt Spangler's ingeniously designed diagonal set to great advantage. Characters are able to move gracefully and rapidly and, thanks to Deborah Constantine's helpful lighting designs, without losing the audience along the way. 

In his playbill bio, Nelson Vasquez thanks Primary Stages for "giving Latinos a voice".  It does, indeed, and in no small measure by casting Vasquez as the play's principal mouthpiece. In Clean, in which Vasquez played the older brother of the play's main character, I commented that he brought "context" and "punctuation" to the play. He does so again, conveying Edwin Sánchez's words as they were meant to be said, acting as a carburetor for Rosario's anger, passion, conviction, frustration and warmth. The remainder of the characters are equally well cast. This is a play that is lost if its words don't ring true. Here, they peal. 

CurtainUp's review of Clean 
By Edwin Sánchez 

Directed by Casey Childs  
with Abigail López, Dennis Parlato, Lazaro Perez, Keith Reddin, Jamie Sanchez and Nelson Vasquez 
Set Design: Walt Spangler 
Lighting Design: Deborah Constantine  
Costume Design: Debra Stein 
Composer/Sound Design: Fabian Obispo 
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission  
Primary Stages, 354 West 45th Street (8th/9th Avs.) (212) 333-4052  
Opened October 20, 1999 Closing October 31, 1999 
Seen October 14 and reviewed by Les Gutman October 21, 1999
©Copyright 1999, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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