nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
February 16, 2006
Cesar—a recently discharged marine who is struggling to adjust to civilian life after a tour of duty in Iraq—lives in a tent on the streets of Manhattan while somehow managing to hold down a temp job at a Fortune 500 company with his former comrade-in-arms, Jack. When not working or feeding the pigeons outside of his tent, Cesar hangs out in bars by himself, and it is in one such bar that he meets Maggie, an alcoholic 20-something who, unbeknownst to Cesar, is starting a new job as a counselor for Iraq War veterans like himself. We soon find out that Jack knows Maggie as well, and when Jack convinces Cesar to get psychological help the next day, it is Maggie who, coincidentally, ends up as Cesar’s counselor.
As it happens, Maggie turning out to be Cesar’s therapist is just one of a handful of unlikely developments in Mando Alvarado’s Throat, a new play that was developed in Washington D.C. and is being presented at the 45th Street Theatre. Throat uses the Iraq War as a backdrop for a mystery that examines people struggling with loneliness, insecurity, and guilt over the mistakes they have made and how to move on from them. But while Alvarado has set up three potentially intriguing characters through which to do so, Throat is hampered by its reliance on unbelievable and melodramatic plot revelations. By the time the play ends and the driving mystery is uncovered, the explanation and discovery that is supposed to tie everything together is not very satisfying.
And as an examination of the lives of veterans returning from Iraq and the loved ones they have left behind, Throat does little to develop its characters or explain their backgrounds, motivations, and present circumstances in any sort of believable way. We never find out how or why Cesar ends up living in a tent on the streets of New York, how he manages to keep his job despite his clearly crippling emotional problems, or even really what the clinical nature of these problems are. Awkwardly filling both the roles of Cesar’s free-spirited love interest and his therapist, Maggie alternates from being grossly incompetent and insensitive to the voice of caring reason, with no accounting for or exploration of these incongruities. Jack flits in and out between the two—a helpful and supportive pillar in Cesar’s life and a criminally negligent deadbeat in Maggie’s.
Unfortunately, director Michael Ray Escamilla does little to add clarity. Choosing to solve most of the more emotionally charged moments with pace and volume, Escamilla largely bulldozes through what might be touching moments with a lot of yelling and crying, and other than some seemingly arbitrarily-stylized scene transitions, there seems to be little imagination put into the direction. This puts a tough burden on the actors, who reach the emotional pitches of the script on cue, but whose efforts are for the most part wasted on characters and situations that don’t really make any sense. Raul Castillo as Cesar succeeds the best, delivering a wounded intensity that is at least emotionally consistent and often compelling.
Of course people in real life aren’t always consistent, and relationships often do not make sense, but one doesn’t get the impression that Alvarado is exploring complex characters and themes conscientiously. Instead, Throat seems to be written so that all of its character revelations, like its plot twists and topical thematic backdrop, seem to exist mainly for the purpose of milking the most melodramatic moments out of every scene, rather than to create a unified and compelling whole. Throat, by prioritizing the dramatic hook at the expense of everything else, presents characters and situations that are difficult to care about because they are, well, a little hard to swallow.