The 13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera

Inspired by the 1990 gay-bashing murder of Queens bartender Julio Rivera, a cause celebre for community activism, Stephen R. Culp's play is anything but a docudrama. This stage phantasmagoria awkwardly juggles satire, absurdism, analysis and uplift into an unstable Molotov cocktail whose inspired moments never coalesce into a whole.

With:
With: Rudy Guerrero, Joe Mandragona, Ian Scott McGregor, Joseph Estlack, Catherine Castellanos, John Patrick Moore, Sara White, Callum Keith-King, David Ryan Smith.

While inspired by the actual 1990 gay-bashing murder of Queens bartender Julio Rivera, a cause celebre for community activism, Stephen R. Culp’s “The 13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera” is anything but a docudrama. Instead, this stage phantasmagoria awkwardly juggles satire, absurdism, analysis and uplift into an unstable Molotov cocktail whose inspired moments never coalesce into an organic whole. An uneven text is amplified by director Jimmy Bohr’s erratic premiere production. Any potential future requires rewrites and restaging.

As envisioned by Culp, Julio (Rudy Guerrero) is a cocky hottie from da Bronx, a Puerto Rican-heritage himbo who has acquired hedonistic experience but not much wisdom in his pushing-30 years so far. He’s been a hustler, a kept boy, a cokehead and, most recently, the semi-employed, faithless lover to live-in partner Freddie (David Ryan Smith).

He’s out cruising for sex when three skinheads corner, beat and stab him in the Jackson Heights public schoolground known as “Vaseline Alley” by night. Hovering at death’s door while long-suffering, unrequitedly yearning pal Alan (John Patrick Moore) runs off to call an ambulance, Julio experiences “hallucinations” that intermingle unresolved real-world personal issues with fantasy, a la “8½” and its musical version “Nine.”

For all their flaws, that film and stage musical are more conceptually unified than “13” by a long shot. Culp has thrown together a disconnected series of scenes, skits, absurdist japes and musical parodies that are sometimes downright crude in stereotypical street language and heavy-handed point-making. Even at their best, they fly uncertainly in a production that seems hapless to find connective stylistic tone.

Some of Culp’s ideas are quite off-the-wall funny. Hilarious in both concept and staging are the live “excerpts” from gay porn flick “School Yard Gang Bang.” Elsewhere, a drag queen (Joe Mandragona) cracks the whip as emcee of a fashion show that pits against one another “runway models” dressed as ACT-UP activist, skinhead homophobe and KKK member.

Act one ends with a bright idea haphazardly enacted as bemused Julio takes part in the “Rent”-style case-pleading Broadway musical based on his own tragic death.

An already all-over-the-map show (which would work better sans intermission) fails to achieve needed finer focus in act two. It reprises earlier motifs without achieving a summary statement. “Hallucinations” often feels like a compilation of playful, ranting first-person essays rather than a thematically cogent entity. At times the unsympathetically drawn Julio becomes quite irrelevant.

Evening’s lamest device is its recurrent use of “Wizard of Oz” echoes, complete with trash-talking Dorothy (Sara White) and liberal quotes from the classic MGM version. The very notion is so Gay Camp 101, it hurts.

Staged on a simple set of chain-link fence pieces before a graffiti’d rear wall, the show needs more visual panache than Bohr and design collaborators provide. Variable perfs, pacing and general conviction all suggest a play whose workshopping is far from done.

The 13 Hallucinations of Julio Rivera

Magic Theater, San Francisco; 154 seats; $38 top

Production: A Magic Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Stephen R. Culp. Directed by Jimmy Bohr.

Creative: Set, Jeff Rowlings; costumes, Todd Roehrman; lighting, Jim Cave; sound, Steve Romanko; choreographer, Klahr Thorsen; music, William Whitefield; stage manager, Karen Runk. Opened April 24, 2004. Reviewed June 16. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast: With: Rudy Guerrero, Joe Mandragona, Ian Scott McGregor, Joseph Estlack, Catherine Castellanos, John Patrick Moore, Sara White, Callum Keith-King, David Ryan Smith.

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