On Insomnia and Midnight
nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
August 14, 2008
Sex and perversity seem to sell tickets and tend to keep an audience interested. Unfortunately, in the case of On Insomnia and Midnight, problems in the production overshadow whatever potential does exist to make an effective piece of theatre. There could have been a tense, eerie, and dreamlike quality to this production but it didn't seem to quite come together.
La Micro Theater is a company that produces Spanish and Latin American theatre in both English and Spanish. On Insomnia and Midnight is David Johnstone's English translation of a previously produced Spanish language play by Edgar Chias. While I cannot comment on the quality of the translation, as an English speaking audience member I felt the language, for the most part, to be very stilted and bookish rather than conversational. In fact, the entire production felt a little stiff, otherworldly, and difficult to connect to.
The story goes like this: a nameless male hotel guest calls a certain chambermaid to his room every night in the wee hours asking for only a brandy. He is sick, though we never find out what his ailment is; he does have some insightful speeches on what it feels like to be dying. He asks the maid to tell him stories from her childhood—sexual in nature. Both are titillated by these encounters but the dominance in the relationship keeps shifting. We see her return night after night as they slowly form a bond and find out more about each other, good and bad.
A play like On Insomnia and Midnight does not hinge on the individual performances of each actor, but is completely dependent on what exists between the characters—there needs to be a sexual tension or chemistry so palpable the whole room can feel it. Unfortunately, the two actors do not show the audience either of these. As individual performers, both do decent work. Sonia Portugal as the maid possesses a sweet quality and is quite engaging. However she is quite obviously a dancer before she is an actress, and most of her moments on stage seem presentational rather than something she experiences within. And Pietro Gonzalez as the hotel guest proves to be a good actor with an outstanding look. His creepiness is effortless—in a good way.
The lighting is a bit confusing at times. The breaks between the different nights are not consistent and sometimes the actors are changing scene in half-light and sometimes in complete darkness. The exits and entrances are not clean, so it was difficult to tell who was coming and going. There is also a projection screen used to illustrate some stories told by each character. While some of these images, like the extreme close up of skin in one instance, are intriguing, most are just distracting, or not seen because of the placement of the actors in front of the screen.
This play has the potential to be something edgy and effective. There are glimpses of this in the content and the general idea behind a completely non-physical sexual affair. But the direction by Berioska Ipinza is not up to par and seems to cause a domino effect on everything else to follow.