"Elevada"

By David A. Rosenberg

Think of “Elevada” as a work in progress.¬†Sheila Callaghan’s play, having its world premiere at Yale Rep, is, as of now, a muddle of themes and characterizations in search of a tone. On one level it’s a Lifetime movie of the week. (Will she live? Will she die?) On another, it uneasily combines verisimilitudinous romance with avant-garde expressionism.

Given the potpourri, director Jackson Gay has trouble meshing all the parts. Gears are missing, stranding players and audiences. Yet, that there’s intelligence and craft at work here gives cause for optimism. Author Callaghan has the makings of an effective piece about the difficulties of interaction in an electronic, yet still human age. Her characters follow their own stars, fearful of clashing with other bodies.

But why? Because Ramona has cancer, a fact revealed in scene one? (“Your sickness was not the thing that made you lovable,” admonishes her sister and roommate, June.) Or that putative boyfriend Khalil rushes off to exotic places like Dubai and Korea for mysterious reasons? (What he actually does is hinted at but never satisfactorily explained.) Or beyond being a concerned older sister, what role is June meant to play? Or what is the purpose of Owen, the druggie who’s Khalil’s irritating roommate?

Breezily written, “Elevada” is about the modern whirlwind of passion and commitment. The present is uncertain, the future fast approaches and the past is a puzzle. Take the “bleached deer skull,” a relic snatched by Khalil from a rollerblader in Bucharest that becomes, he says, “a symbol of my failure to assimilate -- culturally I mean.” That failure is also underdeveloped.

The setting and time, “New York City, Now,” is of a hurry-up city in constant flux. As for the title, “elevada” is a tango step in which the feet hover over the ground in order to minimize contact with it. These characters, we’re told in the program, “step high to avoid messy interaction.” Ramona will go so far as to take a symbolic, fantastical ride from subway to the stars, via Shawn Boyle’s pulse-pounding projections. At another point, outsize figures mock Khalil.

As Ramona, the lively Laurel Casillo avoids the pitfalls of sentimentality. As June, Keira Naughton is wry and straightforward. As Owen, a character ready-with-a-quip, Greg Keller is somewhere between dangerous and docile.

As Khalil, Alfredo Narciso has the most difficult role, made more complex by being so ill-defined. Narciso, whether cracking self-deprecating jokes, crying in frustration, being super-sufficient or dealing with his multiple personalities (is that what this is about?), maintains his cool and becomes a man on the verge.

On the verge of what, we don’t know.

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