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Review: Dreams of a better life in 'Rome' give way to reality

September 19, 2012|By Margaret Gray
  • Julieta Ortiz and Norma Anglica (foreground) portray two friends who dream of escaping their disappointing lives.
Julieta Ortiz and Norma Anglica (foreground) portray two friends who dream… (Andrea Lopez )

In "Roma al final de la via" (Rome at the End of the Line) by the Tijuana playwright Daniel Serrano, two 7-year-old girls in a Mexican village decide to run away to Rome. Having neither ticket money nor an understanding of geography, they wait together at the railroad tracks to jump the next train.

Unlike Godot — the theatrical specter that hovers over these lifelong friends’ sweetly, bleakly existential story — the train does come, rendered in all of its thrill and terror by lighting and sound in a spare, expressionist production originated by Mexico’s Viaje Redondo Producciones and performed at the 24th Street Theatre as the play’s U.S. premiere. But Rome remains a Beckettian fantasy for Emilia and Evangelina, who return together to the site of their youthful hopes five more times.

Julieta Ortiz and Norma Angélica, two courageous and enormously likable actors, play the girls throughout their lives, changing their clothing and hairstyles right on stage between scenes to convey their evolution to teens to women to salty crones. Unfortunately, the image of Lily Tomlin sitting in that giant rocking chair has made me unable to take women dressed as little girls seriously.

The youthful scenes are also laden with fey dumb show and strained little girl-ish gestures (Isabel Romero is credited with “movement design”). Although the dialogue is witty (the play is performed in Spanish, with English supertitles, which often pop onscreen a little too early, stomping on some of the punch lines), director Alberto Lomnitz seems overly eager to draw attention to its pathos, which would come across just as well — or even more effectively — without so many slow-motion expressions of rapture fading to grief.

Although the playwright’s focus on these two ordinary women is clearly motivated by affection and respect, it can also seem a bit condescending. Yes, to be a woman is to suffer, and men disappoint us, and we appreciate the sympathy — but we’re actually doing pretty well, thank you.

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“Rome at the End of the Line,” 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., L.A. 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 6. $15. (213) 745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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