Drifting Clouds

José Rivera's language gets a little nebulous in this magical-realist drama.

A pregnant woman hitchhikes in the rain at a Los Angeles bus stop. A chivalrous airport worker picks her up and takes her home. What transpires between them that night is both predictable and incredible.

Capitol Hill Arts Center opens its third season with the challenging Cloud Tectonics (through Saturday, Dec. 17, at Capitol Hill Arts Center; 206-388-0500, www.brownpapertickets.com), José Rivera's ambiguous play about time, love, reality, and the shifting tides of each. In a contemporary world imbued with magical realism, this award- winning Puerto Rican–born playwright presents three characters who lose track of time as they entangle with one another, in a language that aspires to poetry but too often floats away into the ether.

Under the solid direction of Aimée Bruneau, Todd Licea (as Aníbal de la Luna), Jennifer Faulkner (Celestina del Sol), and Ray Gonzalez (Nelson) successfully convey the humor and sensuality the play demands. Licea and Faulkner handle especially well the subtleties of physical interplay— a coy foot massage, a wordless shared meal. All three give strong, engaging performances, but their portrayals would benefit from an infusion of emotional undercurrent, particularly during the play's somewhat meandering first half.

Their efforts are hampered by an uneven script. Celestina, as her heavenly name suggests, is presented as not of this world, yet her dreamy monologues are spotted with jarring casual expletives and overt declarations about her sexual appetite. And it's odd that the otherwise gallant Aníbal feels comfortable talking about "pussy" with a pregnant woman he's just met.

Tension and drama finally enter the story toward the end as Nelson, Aníbal's younger brother, returns from war in Bosnia. His transformation from a stereotypical cocky soldier into a broken man is the play's most poignant element. The alternate reality created in Aníbal's house by the arrival of the bewitching Celestina is finally burst. Real pain and confusion set in as her implausible tales do damage. The play ends, rather beautifully, in both English and Spanish.

It's a pity Cloud Tectonics doesn't establish this depth and intensity from the beginning. The characters need to be at least as complex as the time-warp device Rivera has trapped them in.


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