After winning the richly deserved 1999 Tony Award for outstanding regional theater, New Brunswick’s Crossroads Theater Co., a premiere showcase for black actors, writers and directors, has been troubled by a host of problems. A severe cash-flow crisis forced cancellations of performances, while the untimely (and lengthy) sabbatical by its artistic director may have something to do with recent productions that fell far beneath the company’s accustomed quality. Alas, “Yellow Eyes,” by Migdalia Cruz, is not a return to form, but rather a murky and lifeless drama concerning an aged, squabbling couple in a squalid Bronx apartment.
Don Jose (Jack Landron), more than 100 years old, is a former Puerto Rican slave. (The character was based on the playwright’s grandfather, who lived to 112.) He tends to his fragile, senile and scrappy 99-year-old wife of 81 years, Dona Ana (Virginia Rambal).
The couple is visited by their great-granddaughter, Isabel (Amarelys Perez), who seeks Don Jose’s wisdom to further explore her African, Spanish and Indian heritage. The time is the winter of 1971, at the end of the civil rights battles , and 13-year-old Isabel is struggling with her identity.
Developed from a one-acter, the drama lacks focus and a cohesive structure. There is an oddly placed and clumsy rehearsal of Isabel’s school production of “My Fair Lady,” featuring Isabel’s boyfriend, Ian (Dyron Holmes), who is subsequently wooed by a religious fanatic (Elisa Bocanegra). Latter, irrelevant episode seems to be result of questionable padding.
Lumbering, long monologues would have benefited from severe editing. The production lacks energy, and the performances are void of any emotional fiber.
Holmes, who doubles as Don Jose as a young slave, manages to enliven a few poetically vivid flashbacks. But overall, director Talvin Wilks has failed to find the play’s thrust and emotional core — it simply rambles along aimlessly.