This darkly funny, upsetting new play makes you hope against hope that scribe Pedro Miguel Rozo is exaggerating the climate of deception and moral corruption in his native Colombia, where it is set. The sprightly pace of Lyndsey Turner’s production and Rozo’s zinger punchlines (as translated into convincingly colloquial English by Simon Scardfield) contrast ironically with the twisted, greedy world the play presents.Story concerns a middle-aged, seemingly average family man, Don Jose (Anthony O’Donnell) increasingly under scrutiny as a possible child molester. Before the play starts, his recently evicted tenant (Claire Cathcart) accuses him of “fiddling with” her teenage son (Joshua Williams, in a remarkably confident debut). His younger son Carlos (the febrile, haunting Colin Morgan), a gay, unhappy “bipolar compulsive fantasist,” starts to convince himself that his father similarly violated him, enabled by an opportunistic shrink (Adrian Schiller). As the mother (Ishia Bennison) spouts platitudes (“We know the difference between good people and bad people. We hate terrorism”), elder son Sergio (Eugene O’Hare), manager of the local shopping center, eventually jumps on the bandwagon of allegation against Don Jose. Rozo keeps us guessing who’s the real victim until the surprisingly straightforward epilogue – but the deflated feeling that comes with having the real “truth” revealed seems, in retrospect, further to his point. A final stylistic twist, which the cast handle with considerable aplomb, is the tendency of characters to speak their inner monologues aloud, driving home Rozo’s message that this is a society where public and private, truth and lies, right and wrong have become tragically, hopelessly confused. Lizzie Clachan’s floor-to-ceiling set of vomit-orange tiles further ratchets up the uneasy atmosphere. While the Royal Court’s International Playwrights’ season, in which this production appears, offers a welcome window on theatrical creativity from outside Western Europe and America, it’s hard not to wish for more context about the complex cultural situation Rozo presents. It would be fascinating to know, for example, how the play was received at its world preem in Bogota last year.
Royal Court Jerwood Theater Upstairs, London; 85 seats; £20 top
A Royal Court Theatre presentation of a play in one act by Pedro Miguel Rozo, translated by Simon Scardfield. Directed by Lyndsey Turner.
Set and costumes, Lizzie Clachan; lights, Peter Mumford; sound, Carolyn Downing; production manager, Tariq Rifaat. Opened February 18, 2011, reviewed February 22. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.
With: Colin Morgan, Eugene O'Hare, Ishia Bennison, Anthony O'Donnell, Claire Cathcart, Adrian Schiller, Joshua Williams.