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THEATER REVIEW : 'El Paso Blue': Moody but It Lacks Depth

March 03, 1995|NANCY CHURNIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN DIEGO — Texas-born playwright Octavio Solis has been making a name for himself for the last five years as the creator of quirky dramas that meld Latino tales with classic European literature. Take a dash of "Oedipus Rex," mix it with a seamy tale of passion gone awry in Texas, and you've got "El Paso Blue," which is having its Southern California premiere at the San Diego Repertory Theatre's Lyceum Space.

A Mexican man, Al, at war with his father, is obsessed with his blond, white, trophy wife. He calls her his "visa" and his "glory" and says, "I love you so much I could kill you." When she leaves him for his father, you can bet violence will follow.

Solis, who directed here, proves himself a master of mood. Michelle Riel's set--ancient, peeling walls, barbed wire, sun-baked wooden planks, a dresser askew in dirt--tells a story of worn-out lives and broken dreams.

Michael (Hawkeye) Herman plays haunting music on a mournful guitar on the corner of the stage. The luminous and deliciously funny Delia MacDougall, who originated the role of the wife, Sylvie, at San Francisco's Intersection for the Arts last year, sings half her part--thrillingly.

The cleverness embedded in Solis' poetically charged dialogue brings welcome laughs in melodramatic places.

But as with Solis' 1990 "Man of the Flesh," emptiness at the heart of the characters leads to a flat, predictable story. There are some showy similarities to the Oedipus myth, complete with murderous feelings, parent-child obsessions and even blindness. But why does Sylvie fall for Al's father? Why doesn't her husband, Al (Vic Trevino), let them go? Why does Al have a faithful friend, Duane (Pace Ebbesen), who transmits radio frequencies through a metal plate in his head? Forget any satisfying answers or insights.

The Greeks made a point with "Oedipus." It was a cautionary tale warning mortals that they could not escape their fate--that the will of the gods was greater than their own. In "El Paso Blue," the course of events is more arbitrary than inescapable.

The show gains a little punch from its unintended parallels with aspects of the O.J. and Nicole Brown Simpson story. But once you get past Solis' idea that marrying a trophy wife brings trouble, the show coasts on its rich atmosphere, exquisitely lit by Jose Lopez, and the company's superb, intense acting. Trevino brings a tortured, sexy intensity to the confused husband. Singer plumbs unexpected depth in the curmudgeonly father transformed by love.

Yes, "El Paso Blue" has got blue to spare--now all it needs is depth.

* "El Paso Blue," San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Wednesday and March 15 at 2 p.m. Ends March 25. $21-$25. (619) 235-8025. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

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