Latino Chicago Theater Company

Liza’s been waiting at this bar for Vince for hours, and she’s getting ticked off. So she strikes up a conversation with Scout, who’s been buying her drinks all night. Scout’s a Mexican computer programmer who’s been struggling with his racial identity (his real name is Mario), and though he claims to speak no Spanish he occasionally lapses drunkenly into his mother tongue.

Vince, a small-time hood, blows in like a tornado and proceeds to alternately befriend and menace Scout, screw Liza in the john, jive-talk with his drug friends Red and Winter, and then suggest they take the party back to his place so that Liza can get a look at Elena, his incontinent, cancer-stricken wife.

Back at Vince and Elena’s place the stench of government-issue medicinal reefer lingers in the air, and a most unpleasant evening ensues, in which Elena’s moods switch from a quiet, contemplative acceptance of her imminent death to a bile-spewing fury to a wheezing, death-rattle desperation. As the play progresses, characters reveal hidden elements of their lives. Liza tells about the young daughter she left home tonight. Elena reveals her passion for X-rated movies, which, along with reefer, is the only sensual pleasure she has left in life. And Scout tries to come to terms with his Mexican heritage, describing his relationship with the Mexican grandmother Elena reminds him of.

The press release for Octavio Solis’s Prospect at the Latino Chicago Theater Company says the play is about Scout’s struggle with his heritage, but it is just as much Elena’s or Vince’s or Liza’s story. It is the story of Elena’s dependency and desperation for human companionship. It is the story of Liza’s attempt to escape from the responsibilities of motherhood and to justify her existence. It is the story of Vince’s misery as he sees his once-robust wife succumbing to cancer and tries to find happiness in lines of coke and bags of pot.

Prospect is certainly an ambitious work, and it’s well performed by Latino Chicago. But it’s also pretty uneven and unsatisfying: it lacks focus and seems to change its mind about which characters it sympathizes with. At times Vince is a violent, insensitive bastard, and at other times he’s a pitiable loser. Liza too is a contradiction. One moment she’s giggling and enjoying Vince’s company, and the next moment she has her purse slung over her shoulder and is storming to the door. And why the levelheaded Scout decides to join these misfits remains unclear, unless it’s to further the plot and themes of the play.

Scout’s identity crisis is handled far too blatantly to be interesting. “Don’t tell me I gotta deal with my culture,” Scout says at one point. Later he declares, “Maybe I don’t want to be different.” And Elena, in one of her moments of lucidity, advises Scout, “You see what you’re turning your back on by denying your heritage?” With the terms of the debate laid bare, the argument seems overly obvious.

Various plot devices don’t ring true, in particular a subplot involving Vince’s drug friends and a search for a guy who looks like Scout, which are undeveloped and confusing and seem tacked on to throw some tension into the play. There also seem to be one too many brawling arguments. Elena has about three coughing, retching, on-the-verge-of-death scenes, Liza has around three angry-running-out-the-door scenes, and Scout almost gets into about three fistfights. At two different points Elena declares helplessly, “I want to fucking get it over with.” My sentiments exactly.

Still, Latino Chicago does some fun things with this rather unpleasant play. Director Ralph Flores uses the clever trick of setting the bar scene in the lobby of Latino Chicago’s Firehouse space and using the theater space for Elena and Vince’s home. And the performances–from Thomas Carroll’s boisterous, pitiful macho Vince to Peggy Dunne’s sensitive, less-than-confident Liza–are all first-rate. But Prospect is a messy, repetitive play that doesn’t really go anywhere, and the place it stays is not a particularly pleasant place to be.