Edwin Sanchez has written half a fine play with his latest, “Barefoot Boy With Shoes On.” The superior half chronicles the fresh struggles and the old resignation of three generations of Latino men living in a one-room New York apartment. When three accomplished actors — Nelson Vasquez as son Rosario, Lazaro Perez as Pops and Jaime Sanchez as grandfather Buelo — give voice to these characters’ dreams, or despairing lack of them, Sanchez’s drama is infused with a startling verisimilitude.
The world outside Rosario’s cramped apartment, pushed to far stage right in Walt Spangler’s wonderful jungle-gym set, is the other, much weaker half of “Barefoot Boy.” Here, Sanchez draws stereotypes that are all symbol and no flesh: the pregnant girlfriend, Vicky (Abigail Lopez), who inexplicably goes from one thug lover to the next; the social worker, Dr. Morton (Keith Reddin), who forces his Yankee materialism on Vicky’s decision to keep or not to keep her and Rosario’s baby; and the wealthy gay man Morris (Dennis Parlato), who educates Rosario on such life essentials as Bach, martinis, silk shirts and the aphrodisiac qualities of sweaty socks. (At least director Casey Childs doesn’t have Puccini on when Morris bids Rosario, the window washer, into his umpteenth-floor luxury apartment.)
With Morris, and to a somewhat lesser extent Vicky and Dr. Morton, it’s as if the bright but uneducated Rosario had formed these characters himself after watching too many movies. In other equally troubling aspects, “Barefoot Boy” resembles a film script with its short impressionistic fragments of dialogue that aren’t always developed dramatically. The play’s intermissionless 90 minutes is another obvious cinematic touch.
But a different, vital play breathes when Sanchez gives his family of three men the time and room to beat against the encroaching four walls of their environment. Rosario’s is a remarkable journey, and one well worth taking with as charismatic an actor as Vasquez. (In a bit of nontraditional casting, he could make a fascinating Stanley Kowalski.) Lopez and Reddin admirably perform against type, and Childs only fails with Parlato, pushing him to play right into the insufferably arch writing.