Review: 'Spain' at Lucille Lortel Theatre


Special to Newsday

October 31, 2007

A play can conjure the most absurd or fantastical world, from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" to "Woyzeck." But for us to buy it, we have to recognize some shred of genuine human behavior and feeling in it.

In Jim Knable's smirking, leaden fantasia "Spain," a lonely urban divorcee, Barbara (Annabella Sciorra), hallucinates a strutting conquistador (Michael Aronov) who looks and feels strangely real to her. But to our eyes, this moustache-twirling knight is a musty cartoon with an apparently therapeutic mission: to get Barbara to embrace her inner aggressor. Or, put more mundanely: to quit her financial-services job and move on from her ruined marriage.

Nobody else here behaves quite like a human being, either. When a co-worker (Veanne Cox) encounters the Spaniard, she takes him at face value and asks to touch him, without a flicker of doubt or suspicion. When Barbara's ex-husband appears with plans to move back in, he brings along those perennial bachelor essentials: an acoustic guitar and a box of coffee-table magazines.

Maybe it's all supposed to be, you know, allegorical: Barbara's co-worker, after all, is named Diversion. Her husband, on the other hand, is named John. Will the quandaries never cease?

And what are we to make of the reliably droll Lisa Kron, who appears in a variety of male roles, from Mayan shaman in feathered headdress to butt-slapping boss in a bad hairpiece?

Director Jeremy Dobrish labors hard to find the right tone for the play's self-consciously wobbly transitions, and he springs a few surprises from Beowulf Boritt's lavish set. The actors, led by the appealing Sciorra, remain heroically, almost insanely committed to their characters' vague, squirrely objectives - not a happy contrast.

Suffice to say that the scene in which Cox rides a fellow actor, horsey-style, and snatches a glass of wine from a feather-clad Kron will not stand among the high points of the careers of anyone concerned. Nor will the sight of Sciorra simulating sex in an orange prison jumpsuit. Far from conjuring multiple, interlocking levels of reality, "Spain" fails mainly on every plane.

SPAIN. Written by Jim Knable. Directed by Jeremy Dobrish. Through Nov. 17 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., Manhattan. For tickets call 212-279-4200. Seen Friday.