A silver foil curtain hangs over the small theater’s rectangular shallow playing area with its gray floor and symbolically in the center is a television set on a stand facing upstage. The personable, youthful and charmingly low-key goateed actor Rafael Sardina enters, kibitzes with audience members in the first row and there are sly smartphone gags. He soon masterfully launches into a swirling 30 minute deadpan reverie containing emotional crescendos concerning an episode of The X-Files he watched as a child. Mr. Cortiñas describes this as “a melancholy ghost story” in his stage directions.
We discern that Mr. Sardina is actually playing the character of Álvaro who grew up in Puerto Rico and that this television series installment has wild coincidental parallels to his life. Sardina is spellbinding in enacting this outlandish paranoid riff that points to conspiratorial culprits who have since edited the episode. He exits and the curtain rises.
We’re now in Puerto Rico at the house Álvaro grew up in. His good friend Patria, a combat boot-wearing lesbian artist has arrived there on his behalf regarding a pressing matter. Álvaro is a performance artist and playwright and we previously saw one of his routines. We meet his estranged hotheaded older brother Nestor and his stalwart wife Ana, the brothers’ Alzheimer’s-stricken mother Olga and their cheery neighbor and childhood friend Beba. To go into further detail about the emerging conflicts amongst them would spoil Recent Alien Abduction’s integral elements of surprise. “Clorox and ammonia” describes the siblings’ relationship.
A photo of him and me, standing together, when we were this high. He was wearing glasses and corduroy pants and pomade in his hair. I didn’t write a letter or anything because to be honest I can’t express myself the way that he could. I just put the photo in an envelope…And I thought, oh, maybe one day my brother will let me hug him again and I’ll smell that pomade and it will be like smelling our childhood.
Cortiñas displays a superior command of dramatic writing with his poetic dialogue, honed structure and flamboyantly drawn characters. Cortiñas conveys the fevered psyche of a troubled individual with his increasingly overheated plot that plays out as a therapeutic exercise while the mysteries are finally solved. Those familiar with Scott Heim’s 1995 novel Mysterious Skin, director Gregg Araki’s 2004 screen adaptation of it or the film Chuck and Buck (2000) might find Recent Alien Abductions’ themes and resolution familiar.
In directing his own work, Cortiñas makes full use of the wonders of technical elements in this moody and cryptic production, combining realism with nightmarish fantasy. Thomas Schall’s charged fight direction has some breathtaking and bloody sequences including an attempted rape. The intense cast fully embraces their complex roles.
Making his New York City stage debut as Nestor is the accomplished regional actor Daniel Duque-Estrada. With the force of Stanley Kowalski on speed, the athletic and charismatic Mr. Duque-Estrada is commanding as he exhibits anguish, erupts in rage and resorts to violence. When tenderly reminiscing about his beloved pit bull Monster, Duque-Estrada is enthralling.
As Nestor’s foil Patria, the plucky Ronete Levenson’s winningly sympathetic characterization takes on darker shades as she performs chicanery and physical combat. The ubiquitous acclaimed local character actress Mia Katigbak’s grand performance as the mentally disintegrating Olga is vividly humorous and poignant. Stretched out lengthwise on a table as her diaper is being changed from behind, Ms. Katigbak is silently powerful. During an otherworldly detour, Katigbak is hypnotically chilling.
Bringing a range of depth to the television sitcom-style role of the daffy neighbor Beba is the marvelous Yetta Gottesman. The bespectacled Ms. Gottesman’s effortless hilarity comes close to taking over the play and she has a dramatic breakdown as well. As the put-upon wife Ana, the alluring Vivia Font’s feistiness and sensuality is terrifically ever present.
After his initial dreamy nightclub location, scenic designer Adam Rigg cleverly visualizes Puerto Rico with the abundant tropical foliage peeking over the top of the appropriately furnished domestic setting. Composer Mikaal Sulaiman’s foreboding original music and various effects are realized by his spooky sound design. Dimness, blackouts and strobes are all liberally used by lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker to achieve a desired queasy atmosphere. Fabian Fidel Aguilar’s organic costume design perfectly matches each character with just the right contemporary fashion.
With all of its quirky puzzlements Recent Alien Abductions is an emotionally resonant treatment of harrowing subject matter.
Recent Alien Abductions (through March 24, 2019)
The Play Company (PlayCo)
Walkerspace, 46 Walker Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.playco.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission