Coat Check Casanova
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 25, 2011
Jaime Robert Carrillo's new play Coat Check Casanova actually feels like three plays, or at least tantalizing snippets of three plays. It's clearly an ambitious and audacious project, but its scattered focus and divergent styles keep it from cohering as successfully as one would like.
The piece begins in the fevered imagination of Victor, the coat check attendant AND Casanova-wannabe of the title. We see him asleep on his forlorn bed in his lonely apartment; on the stage behind and around him we see the women of his dreams—beautiful and often scantily-clad and always filled with desire for him.
Then his day begins; real-life intrudes in the form of Sean, a relatively obnoxious young man who, while not exactly Victor's friend, his probably the person he's most in contact with: his quasi-landlord/boss. Victor eventually dresses and heads for work. In the next section of the play, his thoughts and dialogue is voiced by an on-stage character, intriguingly played by a woman. Then Victor breaks the fourth wall and starts to talk directly to us (in his own voice) about his job as a coat check attendant. Carrillo is most successful in his playwriting in these sections, which really reveal what it means to be in one of America's invisible occupations—a service worker at the lowest rung of the hierarchy, taken for granted and too often taken advantage of. Victor explains his work to us in a way that commands our attention without feeling whiny or self-involved.
And then the third component of Carrillo's play slips in, involving a probably illusory affair with a beautiful young woman named Lia, and then a probably actual affair with a different beautiful young woman, this one named Marlene. These segments feel at odds with the other parts of the play: for me, anyway, I liked the dream and actual sides of Victor's life to be viewed separately rather than melded abstractly in these somewhat confusing scenes.
And then there's the homeless man, played with real energy and vigor by Keldrick Crowder, who sometimes harangues Victor on his way between work and home. In this character seems to lie the spirit and weight of the play, and I actually wouldn't have minded seeing more of him.
Carrillo himself plays Victor, and his performance, under Joshua Benson's direction, is effective.