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David reviews "Chocolate Casi Amargo," "You Are Where," and "M.I.A."



I only know a few words of Spanish, but I really enjoyed "Chocolate Casi Amargo," ("Chocolate, Almost Bitter"), a one-act written and directed by Candide Carrasco and presented Saturday afternoon on the TheaterRocs Stage at Xerox Auditorium. The play has no plot to speak of, it's just a late-night conversation between a long-married couple, Isabel (Elena Nápoles Goldfeder) and Francisco (Rubén Lorenzo Gómez). Over mugs of chocolate, they argue about their old life in Cuba, their relatives, and the happiness of their gay son. What makes the play unusual is that most of the dialogue is in Spanish -- the couple only occasionally, and helpfully, lapses into English. Carrasco uses this pointillistic English (and the actors' body language) very skillfully - even if you don't know Spanish, you still get the idea of what's going on and can still respond to some of the humor. The actors help tremendously: Goldfeder and Gómez both have great presence, play off each other with gusto, and hit all the notes in the script, whether bitter or sweet.

For a show that hasn't been on TV for almost 60 years, "You Are There" casts a mighty long shadow. That is probably because it is an inspired idea: presenting historical situations as just-breaking news stories, reported by actual TV news reporters. In the original version, CBS newsmen (and men only; this was the 1950's) reported on everything from Socrates' trial to the death of Billy the Kid. In this new, Rochesterian edition, titled "You Are Where," the historical events come from the Flower City, and include two of our famous flops: the failures of Eastman Kodak and of the Fast Ferry. Presented in vignettes, written by Justin Rielly and Spencer Christiano, and directed by Don Bartalo, the production presents ordinary people's reactions to the situations, along with news reporters and politicians (in the Fast Ferry section, one actor gets to play Mayor Bill Johnson). The individual scenes are written with humor and an edge, and the acting company is very engaging. Bartalo would like to turn "You Are Where" into a regular radio series, and I hope he succeeds.

My Fringe Festival reviewing ended on a high note with "M.I.A." This play was also written by Spencer Christiano, and performed by him as well. He scores on both counts in this heartfelt and satisfying solo show. Christiano's great-uncle, Joseph, was shot down over Laos in 1965. He was at first classified as missing in action, then as a casualty, but no one was sure he had actually died. Forty-six years later, some objects finally recovered from the crash site proved that Joe Christiano and four other men were on the plane; they received a funeral with full military honors. In a detailed, vivid monologue, Spencer tells of his entire family's trip to Arlington National Cemetery for the funeral, and of his own search to learn the details of Joe's life and to determine his own place in his family. Spencer describes "M.I.A." As a memory play, invoking Tennessee Williams' "Glass Menagerie," and the comparison is apt. His rich script is both deadly serious and very funny, and his performance is perfectly paced.

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