Latino Chicago Theater Company

New York playwright Edwin Sanchez has had only two plays produced in Chicago: Fatty Tissue, performed last spring as part of the Off Off Loop Theatre Festival, and now Floorshow: Dona Sol and Her Trained Dog, which opened last Saturday at the Latino Chicago Theater Company. Both plays show an interest in dysfunctional families and the ways that abusive parents distort their children’s lives.

Sanchez’s mildly surreal, sometimes humorous, sometimes incredibly angry one-act one-woman Fatty Tissue reveals how the protagonist’s obsession with food–so strong she believes her refrigerator is alive and intentionally tempting her–is a way of getting back at her violent father. Though sections of Fatty Tissue seemed too long and the woman’s anger was at times so overpowering it was hard to take, the focus of the work never wavered.

Floorshow is significantly more ambitious. In its 90 minutes it attempts to deal with a whole family’s worth of problems–and not just any family but a broken family headed by a prostitute, Dona Sol, who is forced to practice her trade at home within earshot of her young, impressionable children, one of whom has been severely handicapped since birth.

Unfortunately, Sanchez’s youthful ambitions–he’s still in his first year at Yale’s graduate drama program–prove stronger than his abilities. Floorshow is crowded with interesting twists and intriguing ideas, but none is given the time or space to develop. Sanchez also tosses aside the traditional structure of a well-made play and begins this one with what would be the climax of a more straightforward story: the murder of Dona Sol’s daughter. He then structures the rest of the play as a series of fragmented scenes, some set in the present, some set in the past, but they don’t quite add up to a coherent story.

By the end of the play we do find out who murdered Dona Sol’s daughter and why–but by that time we don’t care. And besides, who killed the girl is no more important in Sanchez’s scheme of things than the fact that Dona Sol went into fortune-telling after she gave up prostitution–and a great deal less important than her openly manipulative and destructive relationship with her son, whom she alternately emasculates and seduces. The main problem with Floorshow is that it’s a hybrid: too timid and tentative to be truly experimental, and too crammed with eccentric staging ideas and unexploited plot possibilities to pass for a traditional well-made play.

In less capable hands this show would be all but unwatchable. Happily Laura Ceron makes a superb Dona Sol, bringing to vivid life this fascinating monster’s every quip, gesture, and castrating remark. (At one point Dona Sol averts her own murder at the hands of her son by saying in an absolute deadpan: “Tighter, baby, I can still breathe.”) Edward Torres manages to make the son’s madness quite real without resorting to hackneyed melodramatic raging and gnashing of teeth. Michelle Banks as the ghost of the murdered daughter is also noteworthy, if only for the professional way she makes her character’s unmotivated presence in the story appear to make sense.

Indeed there are no weak performances in this production, a fact that would ordinarily lead me to praise the director. Juan A. Ramirez’s program notes, however, make me suspect that his direction as much as the script is at fault for this lackluster production: he all but abdicates responsibility for making sure the show makes sense.

He begins with a series of questions meant to echo puzzled audience reactions: “What does this mean? Why did you do that? Where did you get this idea? That doesn’t make sense!” He ends with advice on how to get through the evening: “Don’t try so hard to figure it out! We’ve had a good time putting it together. We hope you have a good time watching, hearing, and feeling it!”

Suppose someone came up to you on the street and said, “I’m going to tell you a story. It may not make any sense to you. In fact, most of the people who’ve heard the story tell me they don’t have the foggiest idea what I’m talking about. But I’m going to tell you my story anyway because I always have such a good time telling it.” Would you stick around? Or would you do what I wanted to on more than one occasion during Floorshow: run the other way.