The Tropic of X
Directed By Nathan A. Cooper
Written By Caridad Svich
At Single Carrot Theatre Through March 3
The lights rise on a bombed-out, futuristic version of the arcade-and MTV-'80s as Hilton (Aldo Pantoja), the electric cowboy DJ, starts in with a slangy stream-of-consciousness riffing he calls an "electric bugaloo," seeking "remedy . . . because everything is broken down" in this polyglot, multinational, and politically unstable vision of the near future.
In Single Carrot's English-language premiere production of Caridad Svich's The Tropic of X, Hilton-brought to life perfectly by Pantoja-acts as a Greek chorus filtered through world musician Manu Chao, providing context for the audience and the characters from a DJ booth high above the rest of the stage.
Below, a series of graffiti-covered boxes serves as a post-apocalyptic video arcade, occupied by Mori (Nathan Fulton) and Maura (Genevieve de Mahy), lazing about as a hipster tourist (Paul Diem) wanders the far end of the stage like The New Yorker's classic dandy. Maura taunts him, hollering out, "Hey, juicy fruit," but Mori tries to dissaude her. "He's a tourist," Mori says. "Tourist in the land of plastic, elastic mescaline rush," she replies in the kind of argot that defines the play.
As Maura, the stronger-willed of the two, tries to convince Mori to help her attack the tourist, we come to see the dynamics of their relationship. He is ultimately lazy, kind, and lost, but she is driven by desire-much of it for Mori; the rest, unfocused and listless-and an almost revolutionary fury whose source we don't learn until later. Fulton and de Mahy both pull off their hoody-and-fake-Doc Martens-wearing parts with virtuosic aplomb; they both seem like any number of disaffected teens shuffling between passion and ennui while maintaining distinct personalities that make us actually care what happens to them, individually and as a couple.
"He likes you," Maura says to Mori of the tourist. "Screwy Euro. We should jump him now. We should annihilate him like an effing ninja-matrix warrior. Screw this hanging-around, looking-at-the-ocean, doing-nothing, waiting-to-drown crap."
After they beat the tourist and steal his shoes-neglecting to take his wallet-Kiki (Jessica Garrett) enters in the midst of some dreamy pontification. Dressed in purple bondage gear, Kiki is described as a "part-time hustler of fluid gender." In an outstanding performance, Garrett brings Kiki to life as both the conscience and the dramatic prod of the play.
As she simultaneously taunts and flirts with Mori and Maura, it becomes clear that everyone has something to hide. Mori compares his love with Maura to Tristan und Isolde. When Kiki calls him on making such an educated reference, Mori says, "It was a web link on a site I was surfing." Then Mori reveals that Maura is "from aristocracy," and her great-grandfather "was the Prince of old Vayazul."
Maura's reaction makes the political context of Tropic clear: "I don't want to be disappeared, all right? . . . When the last coup happened, I burned any reference to my great-grandfather that I had."
Though the setting of The Tropic of X is filled with a sort of futuristic exotica, the political context places this unnamed tropic by the sea in line with any number of post-revolutionary locales of the 20th century. When Kiki warns Maura that she better know which side she is on, Maura responds: "Before they change sides, yeah. And when you're at the bottom, you better know everything, and bottom-feeders are the first to get screwed 'cause we're disposable." She brings the point home, telling Kiki, "You're not even worth killing. You're not worth the pop-bang-ouch . . . a cog in the wheel of the economic meltdown of the effing meltdowns of this bronco-busting rodeo-barrio society."
These remarks bring up the theme of the second half of the play: To the global capitalist class, these people are worth little to nothing. The beaten sex tourist returns, this time more in the form of a sadistic sex trafficker, humiliating and abducting Mori after a tryst, brainwashing him, taking his name away, and training him to be a girl.
At this point, the play shows what seems like an obvious debt to Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, only here, the re-educating state has been replaced by multinational capital. Though the dialogue in The Tropic of X is supposed to be slangy, the comparison with Burgess' fully realized argot shows Svich's grasp of slang as rather weak, dependent on a run-on rhythm where diction fails.
The re-education is likewise pale by comparison with the unforgettable Clockwork; fortunately, Single Carrot does not dwell on this aspect of the drama.
Soon we see Maura-wearing Mori's clothes and all but transformed into him-as she wanders the countryside searching for her love, an individual human whose passion means more than all the political systems in the world. And while Mori and Maura are fully realized characters, they can also stand in for any couple whose love has been smashed by larger political or economic designs. The last time Single Carrot used nudity, in last season's Foot of Water, it felt like the company was after shock value. Here, they manage to convey the powerful vulnerability of two naked humans cleaving to one another amidst all the horrors of political life.
It should be mentioned that this is Single Carrot's first performance in its temporary new home, in the former Everyman Theatre on North Charles Street, but it is to their great credit that this reviewer was far more interested in how the group occupied the unnamed tropical island than how they occupied the new space.