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Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
In the opening scene of María Irene Fornés’s Mud, set in a bare-bones rural cabin, near-feral young Lloyd (Julian Elijah Martinez) brags to slovenly Mae (Nicole Villamil) about the impressive trajectory of his semen, and points to a spot where it hit the barn-board wall. Then, having forced Mae’s hand into his pants, Lloyd brags about a recent tryst with a sow. That’s where Mae – his housemate, lover, possibly sibling?—draws the line: “You don’t fuck pigs.”
Perhaps as a result of his interspecies sexual experiment, Lloyd has a venereal problem. To decipher a brochure handed out at the local clinic, Mae—who’s only just learning to read—solicits help from a neighbor, Henry (Nelson Avidon), a middle-aged know-it-all. The law of the jungle applies here, and the root-cellar closeness of the cramped Teatro Círculo promises a gritty, lower-depths cage match. Once Henry agrees to stay for dinner, throwing hygienic caution to the wind, it seems a safe bet that he’s a goner. But is he?
Fornés seems to have conceived Mae as a counterpart to a familiar variety of male protagonist with dreams of a better life. (“She’s not a brilliant person, but the mind is opening,” she told an interviewer for Bomb magazine in 1984.) Mae’s quest to rise above the squalor that surrounds her might indeed seem touching, if handled well. But director Elena Araoz’s revival feels more like an exhumation.
Henry, sporting cowboy boots below an incongruous sports jacket, skews Texas, and everyone seems to slip in and out of a drawl. Villamil relies mainly on a thrusted lower jaw to convey both a countrified accent and the long-simmering resentment of the underclass. Mae’s struggle for ascendancy mostly seems ludicrous as Fornés’s brief play inches slowly toward its heavy-handed finale. What may have been shocking in 1983 seems, in this production, a muddy exercise in miserabilism.
Teatro Círculo (Off-Off Broadway). By María Irene Fornés. Directed by Elena Araoz. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission. Through Oct 29.