nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 9, 2005
A. Rey Pamatmat begins his new play Deviant with one of his protagonists, a graduate student named James Foley, speaking directly to the audience. James tells us, very forthrightly (if perhaps a bit defensively), that he makes his living as a prostitute, that he can make a lot of money easily and quickly this way, that the commodification of his body isn't damaging his psyche, that sex is not the same as love, that there's no one in his life that's worth getting involved with once you consider the potential earnings he would be forgoing by developing such a relationship.
It's not wildly original (cf., for example, Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking), but the openness of this young man—portrayed with raw and unfettered brilliance by Daniel Zaitchik)—disarms us, wins us over, feels very right: I was persuaded that this intellectualization might actually be sincere. I hoped so.
Alas, Pamatmat caves in to the conventional wisdom, making James into a standard-issue hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold before his play is over, and a hypocrite to boot. But for much of its running time, notwithstanding this slip into dramatic cliché, Deviant brims with striking originality as it explores the complicated and conflicted inner lives of its main characters, James plus his two roommates, Sara and Valerie, who are a couple. For starters, it turns out that James's direct-address monologue at the top of the play is actually being delivered to these two women; Pamatmat does a great job swinging back and forth between realities inside and outside the world of the drama, creating an engaging environment within which audience and actors can examine the evolving identities of these three individuals.
What James, Sara, and Valerie have in common is a deadening sense of unworthiness—each repeatedly returns to the notion that he or she is "nothing." Sara struggles with a manipulating and controlling personality that is manifesting itself at the moment in selecting just the right sperm donor for the child she wants to have with Valerie. Valerie, meanwhile, is wavering between her need to stay with Sara and carry this unborn child, and her desire to develop her artistic career by investing in a new studio. And James finds that the house of cards he's built for an emotional life topples as soon as he feels pangs of love for a thoughtful and smart young man named Wayne.
Bouncing in and out of one another's daydreams, the three roommates strain to work out—and break away from—the sources of their feelings of inadequacy. The play is funny, involving, and remarkably clear despite the continuous quick cuts and shifting points of view. That the characters' psychology feels so by-the-numbers is consequently disappointing, because Pamatmat's voice is so interesting and fresh. At its best, Deviant heads off in unfamiliar terrain, as in Valerie's incisive deconstruction of the very idea of a sperm donor. But it falters when it lets its characters fashion themselves as victims of parents who didn't care enough about them; the linkage between James's rather generic domineering mother and his professed self-image as a detached hustler feels particularly suspect, especially given the vague strokes with which James's background is sketched in here.
The play's great promise is well-served by this production from Vortex Theater Company and TheatREX, which features sharp direction by Kara-Lynn Vaeni and a neat, stark design by Mikiko Suzuki (sets), S. Ryan Schmidt (lighting), and Daniel Urlie (costumes). The men in the cast—Zaitchik as James and Jacob Blumer as Wayne—do excellent work, with Zaitchik's explosively focused energy the riveting center of the play. Jennifer Lim (Sara) has some fine moments, but she seems to be about the same age as Zaitchik, which is problematic because Sara is obviously several years older. Courtnie Sauls, as Valerie, is less successful in creating a fully-dimensional character, and she has difficulty mastering the rhythms of several monologues in which Valerie is seen at work creating her paintings.
Pamatmat is still finding his voice—for all of the ingenuity and originality on display here, there are numerous moments that remind us too sharply of influences as varied as Stephen Sondheim, Tony Kushner, and Christopher Shinn. Nevertheless, this is interesting, adventurous theatre that introduces us to several artists who bear watching.