With a flourish of the surreal, the steamy and the slightly scary, playwright Jose Rivera creates a distinctive, colorful world in "References to Salvador Dali make Me Hot." That world is conjured up in a volatile production at Single Carrot Theatre.
Set in Barstow, the kind of small desert city in California that could have fueled a dozen episodes on the quirky, existential 1960s TV series "Route 66" (that fabled highway runs through it), the play has its own share of the quirky and existential.
It keeps peeling off layers to reveal the roots of yearning or regret in human, animal and even celestial spheres. Characters include a man and wife, their cat, a randy teenage neighbor, an equally randy coyote, and the Moon (the latter reveals how he never got over the way Shakespeare called him "inconstant").
For all of its absurdist touches, "References ..." is primarily concerned with some serious, fundamental stuff, especially the challenge of relationships and the after-effects of war -- the play takes place in the wake of the Persian Gulf War.
Such issues do not always fit easily alongside all the fanciful flights, and the play feels padded, overladen at times (the coyote's salacious moves on the cat take up a good deal of time). But Rivera nonetheless makes his most telling points with considerable skill and force.
The play centers around Gabriela and Benito, a couple with issues. She is afraid of vampires and frustrated by the absences of her serviceman husband, feeling that she's "out of practice" being a wife. Above all, she is unnerved by the way that war is "never over" for those who fight one.
Benito arrives back home with expectations, resentments ("I love my country; it's the people in it I hate"), and a gnawing secret. His attempt to resume married life where he left off is seriously thwarted.
Jessica Garrett does natural, nuanced work as Gabriela, emitting plenty of fire when needed. She is well-partnered by Kaveh Haerian as the spring-loaded Benito. The two charge into their fight scenes with particular power.
Haerian also doubles deftly as the Moon. Nathan Fulton gets well into the seductive groove as the Coyote. Heather Peacock makes a charming cat. As the kid next door, Sam Hayder could use more polish, but is a dynamic presence where it counts the most.
In his Single Carrot directorial debut, Steven J. Satta keeps the real and surreal neatly balanced, the pace effective. The atmospheric set (Samantha Kuczynski), costumes (Julie Potter) and sound design (Gavin Heck, Steven Krigel) are a good match for this intriguing, provocative play.