By Marco Antonino Rodriguez; Directed by Victoria Pérez
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 5.8.22
IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street
by Dan Dinero on 5.4.22
(L-R) Monica Steuer and Rafael Beato in Bloom. Photo by Andres Bohorquez.
BOTTOM LINE: At times intense, at times more meditative, Bloom offers a look at a dystopia that might be closer than we think.
While our global pandemic may be (?) winding down, 2022 refuses to turn away from the threat of dystopia, with the leaked anti-Roe Supreme Court draft as just the latest installment in our forced march into The Handmaid’s Tale. So it’s a fitting time for Marco Antonino Rodriguez’s Bloom, a play set on just the other side of this incipient abyss, in a world where anything but rigid heterosexuality seems to be a hard-core crime.
After having been tortured for weeks, Roan (Rafael Beato) gets released into the care of his mother Julia (Monica Steuer), who, we soon learn, is supposed to kill him in the next hour, or else “they” will massacre the whole extended family. As Julia seethes with anger over being put in this position, Roan attempts to finally explain himself to his mother. As he relates tales of his pansexual experiences, his mother retorts with lines that are perhaps more third-hand propaganda than anything she truly believes.
Rodriquez reaches for a lot in this short play. His dialogue feels very Fornesian at times, with short, clipped, subjectless sentences. There is the riff on our present—while it’s tempting to think this is set “somewhere else,” he’s included enough clues (to ‘90s movies, a Muppets lunchbox, talk of an “old regime” that sounds suspiciously like our recent past) that suggest this is very much a future version of these United States. The character names flirt with Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed love story (while Julia and Roan are mother and son, they do talk about love and sex quite a bit), and Julia explicitly compares herself to Abraham (of Biblical “Abraham and Isaac” fame). And I kept thinking back to Marsha Norman’s ‘Night Mother, another two-person play that begins by announcing a character’s upcoming death.
It’s this last comparison that perhaps shows up some of the play’s shortcomings, since here, it feels like the real-time threat of “I need to kill you in an hour” keeps getting lost. While it’s perhaps understandable that Julia and Roan might not want to spend what could be their last moments together worried and afraid, the repeated reminiscences work against the potential for some pretty major dramatic tension.
As Julia, Steuer is earthy and broad; we get the sense that her pious beliefs may be more for show. Steuer plays up Julia’s anger and disgust, and if perhaps this is meant to be a cover for a deeper grief at her son’s fate, that complexity doesn’t always come through. Beato is more successful as Roan, alternating between goading his mother with his “perversions” and sincerely trying to make her understand their shared humanity.
Director Victoria Pérez uses the small space well, and has assembled a strong team of designers. Miguel Valderrama shifts the lighting to reflect the mood, Michael Piatkowski's costumes deepen our understanding of the state of this world, and Barbara Kent’s make-up design makes Roan’s recent torture all the more chilling (an impressive feat, given how close the audience is to the actors). And I especially liked Lynne Koscielniak’s set and props. Off Off budgets are always challenging, and it is clear that Koscielniak squeezed out as much as she could, adding some small touches—a floor treatment, some pots hanging from the lighting rig—that make a big difference.
Ultimately, Bloom is trying to be two plays in one—the high intensity “mom must kill son” play, and the more hopeful one where mom and son finally connect with each other. While it isn’t impossible to accomplish both, in this iteration at least, Bloom’s heart seems to be with the latter. It’s certainly an understandable impetus, to choose life over death. If Bloom still has room to grow dramaturgically, it nevertheless is a reminder that Rodriguez (whose terrific adaptation of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at Repertorio Español is definitely worth checking out) continues to be a playwright to watch.
(Bloom plays at the IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street, through May 8, 2022. The running time is 65 minutes with no intermission. Proof of vaccine and masks required. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $20. For tickets visit iatitheater.org.)
Bloom is by Marco Antonino Rodriguez. Directed by Victoria Pérez. Scenic and Props Design by Lynne Koscielniak. Lighting Design by Miguel Valderrama. Sound Design by Michael Hernandez. Costume Design by Michael Piatkowski. Make-Up Design by Barbara Kent. Fight Choreographer is Brent Shultz. Stage Manager is Danielley Ostolaza.
The cast is Rafael Beato and Monica Steuer.