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Theatre in Review: Fur (Boundless Theatre Company/Next Door at NYTW)

Ashley Marie Ortiz. Photo Al Foote III.

Fur has the distinction of having the most unpalatable premise of the season so far. Once again, we are in the apocalyptic future -- the favorite destination of contemporary playwrights -- although you have to glean this information from the program; the script makes no mention of it. Michael, who operates a pet shop in a desert suburb of Los Angeles, brings home his latest catch, Citrona, a woman whose body is covered with hair. Michael puts her in a cage and hires Nena, an animal trapper, to capture the furry little critters needed to keep Citrona fed. Very quickly, a steamy triangle develops: Michael is totally hot for Citrona, although, if you ask me, keeping her locked up in her own filth is a funny way of showing it. Anyway, his yearning is for naught, because Citrona is inflamed with desire for Nena. "You're so beautiful. I could eat you right up," Citrona says -- words that Nena should definitely pay attention to. Anyway, Nena only has eyes for Michael, although, truth to tell, she is also weirdly attracted to Citrona - even if she fights it. It's quite a stew of misdirected desire that playwright Migdalia Cruz has cooked up, and there's no way that it is going to end well.

Nor is it going to end quickly. Fur runs only one hour and forty minutes, but such is its inertia that eons seem to pass while these three characters work out their macabre domestic arrangements. It doesn't help that they lack any kind of psychological reality and speak in a kind of tortured poetry. Citrona, describing her conditions in the cage, says, "My shit and urine is my company." Nena, bragging about her way with animals, says, "I had two squirrels I trained once to dance to John Philip Sousa marches. Rodents like marches, I find." Michael, wooing Citrona, says, "That cage is the biggest cage you've ever been in -- doesn't that tell you a little something about my intentions? About how I feel?" This is known as an offer that can be refused.

Much of the dialogue is colored a deep, throbbing purple. Citrona, turning aside Michael's blandishments, says, "That's a sickness. To love an animal. I'm not clean inside. Inside I'm like rotted link sausages. Parks. Green and brown. Who'd want to poke into that? You must be crazy." Undaunted, he replies, "Love's like that. You pick up your lover's vomit and treat it like a jewel." Nena, holding onto Michael and masturbating herself, says, "I could sit here with baby chicks coming out of my nose and you still wouldn't listen, would you? They could come flying right out of my nose and shit on my arm and still you wouldn't notice." Citrona has a nearly indescribable speech about being born with a caul, which her mother kept in a glass case. ("It looked like a rotting cobweb.") She adds, "I lost my hymen, too. Mother thought it best. She pierced me with a letter opener made of wood, then she sold me." Later, Michael asks Citrona what she wants. "A love that smells of fire and bubble gum,." she replies.

It will probably do nothing to clear matters up to mention that Citrona is costumed by Sarita Fellows to look like Cher sporting a Bob Mackie interpretation of a cavewoman, that the action is punctuated with any number of songs by the Beatles, or that the characters operate within a frame of references -- including Bazooka bubblegum, the television personality Marlon Perkins, and Marvin Gaye -- that seemingly roots them in the 1960s. And did I mention the puppet show, using animal skins, that Citrona puts on for Nena? Otherwise, it's all squalor all the time, with Citrona ripping open dead rabbits and munching on them; a disgusted Nena telling Citrona, "You got the entrails of many different animals inside your blood and your skin sweats piss;" and Citrona, in her version of a public service announcement, noting, "More menstruating teenage girls have been lost to wild animals than any other single population group." Who says you don't learn things at the theatre?

Under the direction of Elena Araoz, all three cast members -- Danny Bolero as Michael, Ashley Marie Ortiz as Nena and Monica Steuer as Citrona -- throw themselves into this seedy charade, but the characters they are given are notional at best, and the overripe dialogue practically falls apart in their mouths. Regina Garcia's basement set, dominated by Citrona's enormous holding pen, certainly is creepy, but whenever the characters go behind the window in the upstage wall, their lines are almost impossible to hear. María-Cristina Fusté's lighting, which makes use of numerous onstage practical units, often seems designed to obscure the action; she does makes fairly effective use of saturated color in a fantasy sequence. Nathan Leigh's music and sound design are solid.

But whatever Fur's ideas about women, power, sexuality, freedom, male vanity, and the disruptive power of lust may be, they are impossible to make out in these overheated surroundings. Love is hell, Cruz seems to be saying -- a point that her play makes many times over. --David Barbour

(12 November 2019)

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