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Much More Than a Western Flick

The Indian Wants the Bronx and Fool for Love Directed by Henry Bial and Leo Cabranes-Grant Cabot Underground Theater Through November 9

By Deborah Wexler

The productions of The Indian Wants the Bronx and Fool for Love have been jointly billed as "Cowboys and Indians," but add up to more than a Western flick. Both plays examine people who are trapped--Israel Horovitz's Indian depicts aimless juvenile delinquents who feel cornered by society, while Sam Shepard's Fool for Love examines lovers who cannot escape their incestuous relationship.

Although the decision to stage these works together is provocative, they are not uniformly successful. While Fool falls slightly flat, Indian remains intriguing.

In The Indian Wants the Bronx, Joey (Mark Fish) and Murph (Blake Lewit) crash onto the stage belting "Baby, You Don't Care," Horovitz's over-obvious attempt to assert their alienation. These characters nearly explode with nervous energy, punching, teasing and jostling each other. When Joey and Murph realize that they are being watched by Gupta (Ganesh Ramakrishnan), a lost East Indian immigrant, they outdo each other trying to include him in their banter. Soon their nervous energy spins out of control, and their playfulness becomes destructive.

Lewit and Fish shine as the juvenile delinquents. Murph, the ringleader of the two, foreshadows his later behavior when he mocks Gupta, saying to Joey, "We can't leave him here--some nasty boys might come along." Lewit becomes a menacing thug, with his combat boots, Harley vest and belligerent attitude, but he manages to show the source of Murph's problems without over sentimentalizing his character. When Joey complains that he has to get home to his mother, Murph remarks, "At least you have someone waiting."

As Joey, Murph's sidekick, Fish shows how easily a good-natured underdog can lose control and become a vicious aggressor. After terrorizing Gupta, Joey screams, "It's only a game," hoping that saying the statement loud enough will make it true. We see his frustration and passivity as he yells, "Murph, come and get us!" Rather than taking responsibility for his own actions, Joey wants to be rescued from himself.

Ramakrishnan faces the challenge of speaking all of his lines in Hindi. In the script, Horovitz translates Gupta's speeches into English so the reader will understand his meaning. On stage, however, Horovitz dramatizes Joey and Murph's inability to communicate with their society by creating a language barrier between them and Gupta. Ramakrishnan effectively conveys this barrier--the audience never suspects that he might actually know English.

Director Henry Bial takes a weak and slightly cliched script and turns it into a engaging play. He transforms the dilapidated basement of Cabot into a convincing inner-city bus stop with the addition of cinder blocks and a graffiti-covered public telephone. The small space works to his advantage because it intensifies the actors' claustrophobia. Bial's blocking follows through on this theme--Joey and Murph circle each other as they chant their song and gradually encircle the Indian after stealing his picture.

The main problems in The Indian Wants the Bronx stem from Horovitz's script. Horovitz has the characters screaming just a little too much. Additionally, Horovitz uses weak devices which burden the plot. At one point, Murph inexplicably leaves the stage so that Gupta and Joey can have their big scene. His departure destroys the closed-in atmosphere Bial successfully builds.

Conversely, Leo Cabranes-Grant's production of Fool for Love does not quite live up to the script. The play opens just after Eddie (Charles Marcus) has found his lover, May (Catherine Boyd), after a separation. Sam Shepard shows how their passionate, incestuous relationship ensnares them.

Boyd and Marcus must be simultaneously attracted to and repelled by each other. Shepard has instructed the actors to do this by clinging to the walls and banging against them recklessly to show their claustrophobia. In all fairness, this direction does not make much sense when reading the play--it makes even less sense in this production because the Cabranes-Grant's set is not cramped. As a result, the audience merely wonders why the actors cannot unpeel themselves from the walls.

The set is problematic for other reasons. The audience has just been successfully convinced that the basement of Cabot was an inner-city bus stop--the set for Fool for Love merely rearranges the cinder blocks into a sink and adds a bed and a table to represent May's motel room. In addition, the "special effects" fall flat. The audience must suppress giggles each time a character leaves the room and mashes his feet in the gravel off-stage.

Once the audience overcomes its confusion, however, the play becomes enjoyable. Marcus is charismatic and insane--he teases May about her date and jokes "I'm gonna turn him into a fig," laughing hysterically. Marcus mesmerizingly taunts Ben Davis, who steals the show as Martin, May's meek date.

Catherine Boyd, though shaky at first, gives a credible performance. Her attempts at angst fail, but in later scenes she is convincing. For example, she explains Eddie's presence as the man whom Martin assumed was raping her by declaring with perfect understatement, "He's--uh--my cousin."

Granted, the issues in Fool for Love do not lend themselves to easy dramatization. But Cabranes-Grant has failed to present the sort of realistic atmosphere that Shepard's script demands. Bial, on the other hand, buoyed by impressive acting, invigorates Horovitz's imperfect script.

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