Criminal is a cunning little play about psychiatrists and their patients. Billed as a "Tragedy about Counter-Transferential Transference," it asks questions about who really has the upper hand in the doctor-patient relationship. Keeping with the psychiatric theme, it tinkers with the minds of its viewers like an evil therapist trying to deliberately drive his client insane. Its hour long running time is so full of plot twists that if you see one coming, you are guaranteed to get clobbered by the one right behind it.
Criminal was originally written in Spanish by Argentinian playwright Javier Daulte (incidentally, Argentina has the highest number of therapists per capita of any nation). The English version was translated by Rod Cameron, who also played the lead role of Juan Bueras. Cameron's translation is completely Americanized (in a good way), written in natural-sounding American English without giving a hint that was originally in another language.
The play gets off to a fast start. Juan bursts into the office of Dr. A (Ralph Pochoda) and says that a murder is about to be committed, and only Dr. A can prevent it. Just how Juan knows this isn't revealed until later, and the audience is left to puzzle their way through a Hitchcockian labyrinth. A series of flashbacks inform the Dr. (And the audience) of just why Juan thinks someone is about to be killed. Juan is treating Diana (Nicole Halmos), whose husband, Carlos (Pablo Ribot), is being treated by Dr. A. For reasons Juan can't reveal at first, he's certain Carlos is about to murder Diana. The story then unfolds with all the sex, violence, and betrayals that you could ask for in a thriller.
Even though it's a tragedy, a bit of dark humor made its way into the script as well. When Juan tells Dr. A that he thinks Carlos is a would-be murderer, the two shrinks have an amusing debate as to whose patient is more dangerously unbalanced. Some therapy insider jokes also lurk around for those looking for them.
The director squeezed a lot of different locations onto the little stage used for the production. Using a simple but effective set of her own design (with help from Jonathan Fuchs's lighting), MacDonald genuinely gave the impression that the left side of the stage was Dr. A's office, and that the couch, a mere three feet away, was in Juan's office on the other side of town. A third location, the murder scene, appeared eventually, and MacDonald even managed to squeeze that onto the stage as well.
MacDonald's cast were uniformly good, and all well-chosen for their roles, particularly Cameron as the frantic hero and Halmos as his completely screwed-up patient. The four actors kept pace with the material, which required radical changes in character and believable betrayals.
Cameron is currently translating more of Javier Daulte's work, which will, it is to be hoped, be making its way to New York sometime soon.
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby