The Proxy Theatre concludes its second season with Octavio Solis’ disturbing meditation on evil and cutlery, Bethlehem. A sort of mash-up of CSI: El Paso and Edgar Allan Poe, Bethlehem begins as a perfectly ordinary—even clichéd—police procedural, as an enterprising reporter (Ty Mylnar) interviews a parolee about a grisly slashing homicide near America’s southern border. But borders, we soon discover, are as permeable as people, and part of the interest of the piece is watching the plot zig when we expect it rather to zag, as the borders between the real and the imaginary slowly dissolve. As in his Lydia—which saw its local premiere by the AtticRep a few seasons back—Solis relies heavily on heightened, poetic diction: at times, Bethlehem is more prose-poem than play, with all the advantages (and occasional disadvantages) thereof. What starts very slowly, however, builds to an effective and chilling climax, with Solis pulling out every stop in a terrific, contrapuntal quartet of memories and murder. Indeed, it makes sense for this particular evening to be performed without a curtain call: after two-and-a-half hours of gruesome revelations, director Aaron Aguilar wisely keeps one border absolutely intact—the fourth wall between actors and audience.
Bethlehem is an ambitious project for the playwright and company; it tackles nothing less than Greek tragedy, Aztec sacrifice, Tex-Mex identity and (obviously) Judeo-Christian faith. Nathan Furman’s simple set—basically a ramshackle patio and a roll-out bed—anchors much of the action, with Bethlehem’s phantasmagorical sequences inhabiting a floating, borderless space. Johnny Dimas is both appropriately mysterious and effectively creepy as unhinged parolee Mateo. (He also gets the lion’s share of the play’s poetic flourishes: it’s tough to pull off a grammatically questionable line like “[I see] that red tomato edge in your eye and it look Mexican to me.” Try it sometime.) Mylnar’s reporter undertakes the most harrowing journey—no spoilers here—and Mylnar navigates well the play’s troubling descent into a heart of darkness, abetted by Sarah Nixon in multiple roles. While Mellissa Marlowe and Marisela Barrera help flesh out the, um, skeleton of the plot, Kate Oliveira struggles a bit with a romantic detour, a melodramatic arc that never quite fits with the rest of the piece. In terms of design, Alex Coy’s unnerving soundscape never misses a (heart)beat.
After a handful of productions, Proxy is clearly carving (sorry about that metaphor) a niche in San Antonio’s theater scene, and its upcoming season—of Mine, Hamlet and The Aliens—continues its emphasis on plays of especial weightiness and import. The bloodbath of Bethlehem is obviously heavier on the yucks than the yuks, but the play’s dominant themes—particularly those of Texan and Latino identity—should resonate well with San Antonians.
The Overtime Theater
Through Sept. 7
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