Youth at bay

Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie?

By Don Peterson
Directed by Michael LoPorto
Barefoot Theatre Company
The Looking Glass Theatre
422 W. 57th St. (206-1515)
Equity showcase (closes July 28)
Review by David Mackler

The set up of Don Peterson's Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? wasn't new when the play was (in 1969). In a drug-rehabilitation facility on an unnamed island (not unlike Rikers) in a river across from a large city (not unlike Manhattan), volatile youth resist authority, with violence continually threatening to erupt. Thirty-three years later the play is chiefly remembered for a role that brought Al Pacino to the attention of audiences, and the character's scenes have long been staples in acting classes. There's more to the play than that, but also quite a bit less. While Necktie is about as subtle as the rhetorical question that is its title, what made the Barefoot Theatre Company's production worth watching was the quality of the acting. But while Francisco Solorzano's performance as Bickham (the Pacino role) was full of fire, it was Orlando S. Columbus and Dedra McCord-Ware that gave the play its heart.

This isn't apparent at first because the two of them are just part of the large cast. Scenes in the classroom where Mr. Winters (Gilberto Ron) is having mixed success in getting through to his charges introduce characters like Ponti (David Rodriguez), Fullendorf (Jeremy Brena), Tonto (Ruben Luque), Conrad (Columbus) and Linda (McCord-Ware). Bickham bursts in and commands attention for a while, but when Linda and Conrad have a late-night rendezvous in the same classroom, the play becomes more real and less representational. Linda isn't being benevolent -- she charges a carton of cigarettes -- but wives, she says. charge much much more. She's disdainful when Conrad also wants to talk, and she tells him of former tricks, how she grew up hustling, and how using heroin made her feel real. Hardly romantic chit-chat, but it's character-revealing, and pays off later. Columbus, although too healthy to be a realistic junkie, listened well, also setting up his later fervor.

But whether Bickham is a stand-in for the playwright or just a character he has a jones for doesn't matter -- he gets lots of time to be his tortured, misunderstood, sympathetic, abrasive self. Scenes with the teacher (Gilberto Ron held his own quite well in the face of the fusillade), and psychiatrist (ditto Robert Scott) are undeniably powerful as well as blatantly manipulative. There's even a version of "A Christmas Carol" that director Michael LoPorto (and the cast) kept from being cringe-inducing.

But then even Bickham's demise (thoughtlessly occurring off-stage) was put in the shade by a dynamic and stupendously acted scene that the play hasn't quite earned -- Linda and Conrad, about to be parted because of his release, declare, deny, avoid, and face the realities of their situations and their feelings. His hopes are high; she clings to reality, even as it drags her down. The script is full of potholes, but this is what real acting is -- making emotional reality out of sawdust.

The classroom where the action takes place was well designed by Eun-Chung Yoon, although it was a mistake to put the blackboard out of view of half the audience. The lighting (designed by Ji-Youn Chang) was unobtrusive except when it altered in a self-consciously lyrical moment when Bickham read an assignment paper to his teacher. Costumes (designed by Victoria Malvagno) were wincingly spot-on for the period.

Also with Chiara Montalto, Andrew Hannibal, Gabriel Buentello, Michael Kerns, Johnathan Cedano, Rafael Luna, Gil Charleston, Yamille Pennames, Carson Hinders, Edward James Winnow, with special mention of Kendra Leigh Landon, who made her short appearances so interesting it's too bad she didn't have defining scenes of her own.

 Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 David Mackler