When playwright Sam Shepard adapted his 1998 play Eyes for Consuela from a short story by the late Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz, he filled in a lot of blanks and attempted to enhance the mythic layer in Paz's poetic story.
But the play is not Shepard at his best, and despite some intriguing moments, director Richard Dean Stover's production at Fell's Point Corner Theatre is characterized by a plodding naturalism at odds with any efforts at myth and metaphor.
Paz's brief story is a first-person account of a visitor to a tropical town who is attacked by a bandit during a late-night walk. Threatening to cut out the tourist's eyes, the bandit says he plans to give them to his girlfriend, who is collecting a bouquet of blue eyes.
Shepard identifies the visitor as an American named Henry, who is recently separated from his wife and visiting Mexico to sort things out. The playwright also supplies background for the bandit, his girlfriend and the old one-eyed man who is the only other character in Paz's story.
The playwright wraps things up with a surprise ending that adds a mystery-style twist and an extra dash of lyricism. But there's little lyricism in Rodney Atkins' Henry, who seems weighed down by torpor and passivity. Not only doesn't he appear frightened, but if Atkins is going for a realistic approach - misguided though that may be - surely Henry should make more of an effort to overpower his attacker (played by Michael Harris with menace and inscrutability).
Director Stover does several things to boost the play's poetic feel. Chief among these are an on-stage guitar player (Stephen Herrera), who adds atmosphere, and Barb Gehring's choreography for the title character, played with a youthful, mysterious allure by Das Elkin.
Metaphorically, in the broadest sense, Eyes for Consuela is about a man learning to see the world through new eyes. It's also about the way men try to control women, and the way Americans try to control their Third World neighbors, and how both of these efforts can backfire. This comes through at Fell's Point Corner, but with little of the magic that Paz and Shepard appear to have intended.
Show times at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 20. Tickets are $14. For more information, call 410-276-7837.
Baltimore Shakespeare fans got a surprise if they happened to do the acrostic in the Jan. 9 issue of the New York Times Magazine. All of the clues were references to Shakespeare and his plays, and when you worked out the final answer, the acrostic formed the words, "Epstein, Friendly Shakespeare." The rest of the solution was the following quote: "Baconists would look at ... [Shakespeare's] passages backward, upside down, and diagonally, inventing elaborate Latin acrostics, skipping every five letters or every third word - it didn't really matter, as the system was ... arbitrary."
This quote was taken from page 296 of Baltimore scholar Norrie Epstein's 1992 Shakespeare companion The Friendly Shakespeare, and no one was more surprised by the Times puzzle than Epstein herself, who isn't into acrostics.
A Florida theater critic who knows Epstein called her that day. "She was hyperventilating. I think it was sort of a shock when you see the words form," Epstein said. "I sort of didn't believe her. I thought she had it wrong."
As to the honor of being singled out in a Times puzzle, Epstein commented, "I think my father was more pleased over that than he was when I got my doctorate. ... I wish it was an achievement I'd done myself, then I could boast about it."
'Smokey Joe' canceled
The production of Smokey Joe's Cafe that was to have played the Lyric Opera House tomorrow through Sunday has been canceled, due in part to slow ticket sales, according to the presenter. This would have been the third Baltimore engagement of the revue of songs by Mike Stoller and former Baltimorean Jerry Leiber.
Smokey Joe's is the third touring show in 18 months to cancel at the Lyric, and in one sense, its cancellation is ironic. The Lyric is changing its orientation to focus more on pop concerts, and Smokey Joe's is a compendium of pop songs, albeit a revue and not a concert.
Ticket holders can obtain refunds through their point of purchase, including the Lyric box office. Ticketmaster customers will receive credit in full to their credit card accounts. For more information, call 410-685-5086.