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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Bathing in Moonlight

Falling in love is not an abnormality. — Father Monroe
Hannia Guillen and Raul Mendez
It has been thirteen years since we have had a major play from Cuban-born Nilo Cruz whose Anna in the Tropics won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama following its world premiere here at the McCarter Theater Center and its subsequent Tony-nominated run on Broadway. That there is a special kinship between him and the McCarter and its Artistic Director Emily Mann is evident in that two of Cruz's previous and much better plays, A Park in the House (1994) and Two Sisters and a Piano, have premiered here under her guidance.

Despite readily apparent flaws there are many, there a glint of the magical realism and a gift for dramatic lyricism that is at the heart of Cruz's talent is still evident. It is these elements that support and lend credence to what is otherwise a rather hackneyed story about a Cuban family living in critical financial circumstances in Miami in the present time.

The very handsome production is about a family that has evidently come under the spell of Father Monroe (Raul Mendez), a good-looking and personable priest who has been afforded more than simple hospitality by one family member in particular. It's no secret that the beautiful but unmarried thirty-something Marcella (Hannia Guillen), who plays Shubert and Schumann on the piano at the church, has strong feelings for the Father and he for her — even under the eyes of her teenage daughter Trini (Katty Velasquez.) It is also no secret to either her disgruntled younger brother Taviano (Frankie J. Alvarez), a recent returnee and drop-out after two years from a medical school in the Domincan Republic, or to the aging but still romantically possessed yet senility-afflicted mother Martina (a superb Priscilla Lopez.)

It would be easy to call the basic plot romantic swill, although it presumably has as its target the constrictions and constraints of archaic religiosity and its doctrins. This is apparently what is tormenting the obviously much too progressive Father Monroe. The priest's barely contained passion for Marcella is predictably troublesome to the family as well as being considered morally egregious by the local Bishop Andrew (Michael Rudko.) Father Monroe's protestations of the rules are enough to give the Bishop something close to heart burn. This, as the Bishop tries to bring the young, virile and unsettled priest to his senses, or at least the kind of senses that the church approves.

One can turn to numerous film plots in which a priest falls for a fallen woman and is miraculously redeemed (or not) by the end credits. I happen to love them. Most recently enjoyed on late night TV was the gorgeous 1936 Technicolor sudser The Garden of Allah in which a cloistered Monk Charles Boyer succumbs to the allure of Marlene Dietrich on the sands of the Algerian desert. Then there is the even less known 1960 melodrama The Angel in Red set in Spain during the Civil War in which disillusioned priest Dirk Bogarde renounces his vocation just in time to fall for prostitute Ava Gardner. I can buy that one. I could also go on and on.

But back to Cruz's more incredulous plot, we are asked to believe that Father Monroe, who tells us his mother named him after Marilyn Monroe (don't ask) is willing to submit the financially beleaguered family to the wrath of the church and the indignation of the community rather than quietly hand in his resignation or at least leave town with Marcela. Scenes between him and the Bishop are simply the same tired and tedious old arguments that continue to disrupt the Catholic church and its adherents and challenge its fundamental edicts. We've heard all the arguments before about allowing or not allowing priests to marry or have sexual relationships.

The acting, under Mann's able direction, rises to the requirements and necessities of the occasion with only Lopez actually lifting this romantic swill into the surreal as she swirls through some charmingly staged visions of herself with her deceased husband Taviano Sr. (also played by Alvarez). The play's funniest moment arrives early in this one-act play as Marcella, who has taken up selling hats to make a money for her family. After reluctantly trying on a hat, Monroe asks, "If I wear this hat, will I be more attractive to you?" To find out the answer, you will have to check out this play in which arguments are neither settled nor sufficiently stimulating whether initiated within the interior of a modest home or in the even more modest evocation of the local church. The play does manage to hold our interest but. . . The title of the play is lovely but. . .

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Bathing in Moonlight by Nilo Cruz
Directed by Emily Mann

Cast: Raul Mendez (Father Monroe), Hannia Guillen (Marcela), Priscilla Lopez (Martina), Katty Velasquez (Trini), Frankie J. Alvarez (Taviano Jr./Taviano Sr.), Michael Rudko (Bishop Andrew)
Set and Lighting Design: Edward Pierce
Costume Design: Jennifer von Mayrhauser
Sound Design: Darron L. West
Production Stage Manager: Cheryl Mintz
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
Berlind Theater at the McCarter Theater Center, 91 University Place, Princeton, N.J. (609) 258-2787
Tickets: $25.00 - $80.50
Performances: Tues. Wed. Thurs. at 7:30 pm; Fri. & Sat. at 8 pm; Sat. at 3 pm; Sun. at 2 and 7:30 pm.
From 09/09/16 Opened 09/16/16 Ends 10/09/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance pf 09/16/16

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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