Review by Tulis McCall
My Ten Least Favorite Play List is expanding again. Maybe I should make it My Twenty Least Favorites. Oh dear.
Once upon a time, in Deuteronomy, an Assyrian General names Holofernes was about to take down the city of Bethulia because he has a hankering for the beautiful Judith, who lives there. In stead, Judith makes her way into his tent where she has become welcome, cuts off the head of Holofernes and saves her town and her country, Israel.
Upon this thread of a story hangs Manipulation – a slim thread, and even slimmer play.
Cristina (Marina Squerciati) is having a pretty bad life. She is married to Mauricio (Robert Bogue) who is an autocrat and a philanderer. Her mother Beatriz (Saundra Santiago) understands this dilemma because she experienced it herself. Her only suggestion is to take control and take a lover. It is the only remedy as long as one does not actually fall in love. Cristina takes her mother’s advice, but it does not do the trick. Finally she flees to Paris for two months where she meets and falls in love with Poeta (Brendan McMahon) who returns her affection while he is planning the revolution about to happen in their home country.
We don’t know what country this is, exactly, because the program lists it as Latin America. Apparently, even though the author is Mexican, she is okay with lumping together an entire continent (not to mention the islands associated with it) as THE location for a story. This means that even the location of the play is as vague as the play itself. Not only is the play vague, it is packed with platitudes, useless action and pauses during which you could unload a banana boat. The acting seems to be way below par, but the blocking and direction are so uninspired that it is difficult to figure out which came first.
Ultimately of course it is the text that comes first. How this vanity production was able to attract the money to produce it is a mystery, and one that happens over and over and over again. People can be convinced to part with their money for the oddest reasons.
I was attracted to Manipulation by the artwork by Botero, which was created for this production, which has graced the pages of Playbill as well as the New York Times. It shows us an enormous woman who is trapped not only behind bars, but inside her own body. And whoever it is she is looking at, is in big trouble. This was the woman I was hoping to see. Instead I saw another tired production about a young, thin woman, trapped in a moneyed but loveless marriage, and surrounded by men who only want to control her or bed her – or both. It is a cross between every stupid man’s wet dream and an unimaginative feminine viewpoint.
Perhaps the backers never read the script. Or perhaps it was better in Spanish.
Yeah. That must be it.
"It’s pure soap opera, brought to life without much nuance."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Unlike its many marionettes, "Manipulation" lacks the necessary strings to hold it together."
Suzy Evans for Back Stage
External links to full reviews from popular press...