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February 13, 2013

Single Carrot Theatre breaks in new digs with 'Tropic of X'

People anxious about seismic demographic shifts already under way in the Western Hemisphere may be a bit unnerved by Caridad Svich’s futuristic drama “The Tropic of X,” receiving its English-language premiere from Single Carrot Theatre — the company’s first venture in its temporary headquarters in the former home of Everyman Theatre.

The playwright’s vision conjures a world where North and South America have fused into a strange melange where languages and longings converge, or collide. The crudely hedonistic society that results comes with a violent undercurrent that some vague authoritarian power is ready to smash or exploit.

Amid the grime and slime of this cruel tomorrow, the old human impulse toward love and union can still break through, bringing with it the faintest tint of hope.

The intriguing, if not entirely persuasive, work has a little “A Clockwork Orange” in it, though with a Latin beat instead of Beethoven — a DJ spinning tracks, and official government lines, provides a connective soundtrack.

The staging, directed by Nathan A. Cooper, also suggests a touch of the vintage “Batman” TV series in the stylized fight scene early on (there’s even a baseball cap emblazoned with word “pow” on the brim).

With her Cuban, Spanish, Argentine and Croatian background, Svich obviously brings a keen perspective to issues of assimilation and alienation. “The Tropic of X” is all about identity — national, social, economic, and, most provocatively, sexual (gender-bending plays a major role here) — and how the things that define us can get pretty slippery.

What Svich doesn’t do is ...

build a satisfying structure for her ideas. As theater, the piece tends to sag or wander just when things get interesting. Scenes that seem headed toward something big or boggling are apt to fizzle and fade.

There isn’t that much spark or surprise in the surreal world being imagined here; with allusions to video arcades and the use of a Nerf gun, it has an odd retro quality.

The dialogue could also use more vibrancy (“Peel my grape” doesn’t seem like the most sexually suggestive line kids of the future would be using). When the play takes its darkest, most surreal turn, the language remains stubbornly flat.

That said, the Carrots plunge into the material with their usual, wholehearted commitment, which helps lift even the less effective stretches.

As two deadbeats who flit from video games to mugging tourists, when they are not thinking sex and drugs, Genevieve de Mahy (Maura) and Nathan Fulton (Mori) do vibrant work.

They both could use a wider range of physical gestures to convey youthful bravado, but they bring out the nervousness underneath the characters’ attitude and make it possible to sense the tenuous bond of affection between them.

Fulton is especially strong when, having fallen afoul of the law and forced to undergo the ultimate transformative therapy, he repeats the mantra he has been taught: “I want to forget. I want to cry. I want to dream ...”

As Kiki, the transgender hooker and drug dealer resigned to the pervasive obscenity of this grave new world, Jessica Garrett struts confidently and conveys an inner vulnerability. Paul Diem moves easily from seemingly innocent guy to scary guy. And Aldo Pantoja, gyrating in his perch above the stage, handles the DJ role with flair.

A committee of costumers devised the slightly offbeat outfits, and Lisi Stoessel designed the compact, graffiti-flecked set (sensitively lit by Lana Riggins).

The performance area has been configured to approximate the intimacy of the company’s former North Avenue location. Single Carrot will eventually move to a new venue taking shape in Remington, but the old Everyman space on Charles Street makes a great home for the time being.

"Tropic of X" runs through March 3.


Posted by Tim Smith at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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