Yale Rep's 'Boleros' disenchanted

by David A. Rosenberg

"Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, To till the ground from whence he was taken.” --Genesis

In “Boleros for the Disenchanted,” Eden is flower-bedecked 1953 Puerto Rico, while the wilderness is 1992 Alabama. And that’s about all that’s truly provocative about José Rivera’s irritating comedy-drama, having its world premiere at Yale Rep.

The author, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the estimable “The Motorcycle Diaries,” has several stage and television works to his credit. Perhaps “Boleros” is one of his more personal creations. But its unbelievable dialogue, contrived characters and inorganic plot make one of its lines, “I’m losing my mind with boredom,” all too true.

Flowers dominate the setting for Act One, which takes place in Miraflores and revolves around Flora, a young woman in a state of disorder because her fiancé has been seen around town with another woman. Dona Milla tries to comfort her daughter while warding off her own drunken, sometimes abusive husband, Don Fermin. Despite the volatile Milla/Fermin relationship, of course it’s love that keeps them together.

Not so with Flora and her intended, Manuelo, who admits he’s cheated. (“God made men and women differently,” he says, “and I have inherited those differences. We are controlled by such desperate forces,” etc. etc.) Flora will have none of this and hies herself to her spirited cousin Petra in Santurce, where she meets and falls in love with Eusebio, a National Guardsman.

This guy has a different line. “I’m not nailed to the cross like some people,” he says, in a pseudo-Tennessee Williams locution. “I cried myself to sleep every night of my youth. We had nothing. Just hunger and despair and the special loneliness only hunger and despair can produce.”

Seduced by this mumbo-jumbo, Eve and Adam (that is, Flora and Eusebio) move to the States, to the consternation of her parents. To tell more would be giving things away. Suffice to say that despite illness and poverty, their love endures as a lesson to a young couple who, incredibly, enter their lives to be reminded that marriage vows include “in sickness and in health till death do us part.”

The dialogue is filled with anachronisms and vulgarisms. Fermin’s choice of words, disregarding the chaste way he’s supposedly brought up his daughter, are particularly crude. (Even non-prudes will be taken aback.)

A priest is given to such sentences as, “God seeks union with us – but that can’t be obtained in life. It can only happen after death. And the physical, emotional union we feel with a lover is only the overture, the tender hors d’oeuvres of union with God.”

The actors are fine, Henry Godinez’ direction amiable, the sets effective, the costumes pretty and the lighting appropriate. But you’ll excuse me if I rush out for hors d’oeuvres and a Corona before my union with whatever.

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