Daniel Cariaga's "Sleepwalk," at [Inside] the Ford, examines the tragic consequences of routine rationalization and persistent deception--the lies told not only to loved ones, but to oneself.
Although married to Lori (Allison Sie), Steve (Rocco Vienhage) craves sex with men, a need he satisfies through secret visits to Loi (Ogie Zulueta), a male prostitute. An up-and-coming business executive, Steve is hand-picked by his heartless boss Miles (Christopher Cass) for a nasty task--firing Steve's fellow executive and friend Jack (Thomas Craig Elliott). The firing goes awry, Jack lands in jail, and Steve perjures himself in a wrongheaded effort to save his own job.
Through it all--the covert sex, the amoral business practices, the constant lies--Steve shoves down his mounting guilt with frantic justifications and denials, adamantly insisting he's not gay.
Cariaga's plot--the double life, the secret shame, the inevitable explosion--is simple to the point of the archetypal. However, Cariaga (who is the son of The Times' music writer Daniel Cariaga) adds a lyrical overlay in a quartet of zombie-like sleepwalkers--metaphors for Steve's unexamined, unconscious life--who wander in and out of the action like zombies, harbingers of something dire.
Cariaga shows great skill at portraying primal emotions. Lori, beautifully realized by Sie, is not some peripheral domestic figure but an estimable woman, noble in her humanity and loss. Often, Cariaga is masterfully subtle, such as in having Jason (Matthew Yee), Steve's son, sense his parents' discord long before they are aware of it themselves. Once or twice, Cariaga rubs our noses in his intentions, as in Jack's monologue about self-torture--a laborious wallow, despite Elliott's keen delivery.
If Cariaga occasionally oversteps himself, director Jon Lawrence Rivera never does, nor does his exceptional cast. Here, the medium--Rivera's staging--is much of the message, an echoing conduit for Cariaga's mature and challenging themes. Robert "Bobby" Fromer's virtuosic lighting is essential to the nightmare ambience of this noteworthy effort.
* "Sleepwalk," [Inside] the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Dec. 17. $15-$20. (323) 461-3673. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.