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‘References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot’ at Single Carrot Theatre

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The great Chinese poet-philosopher Zhūangzi (370-287 BC) wrote: “Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”

In José Rivera’s References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot the long alone and lonely wife of an American Gulf War vet doesn’t know whether she is the cat in carnal debate with the coyote, or whether that’s her husband longing for the moon come morning.

Jessica Garrett (Gabriella) and Kaveh Haerian (Benito). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

Jessica Garrett (Gabriella) and Kaveh Haerian (Benito). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker.

Such is the magical realism one now finds at Baltimore’s Single Carrot Theatre.

Even if one finds the magic in their production a little wanting, the power of the drama surely won’t disappoint. Single Carrot has a play as poignant as it is engaging.

Set in the year after the Persian Gulf War (that’s the first War in Iraq, circa 1991), Gabriela (Jessica Garrett) awaits the return of her soldier husband, Benito (Kaveh Haerian). She hopes anxiously that the husband who enters will be the husband she last saw. Given the high rate of PTSD among veterans, however, there’s a good chance he won’t be. Given the fact that in recent years 20 percent of all domestic violence cases involves returning veterans, her anxiety is well founded. Given the fact that death by suicide among veterans is higher than death by foe, the stakes are indeed high.

Such situations are as ripe with surrealism as they are ripe with nightmares, and Gabriela’s nightmare is eating away at her sense of well-being.

Gabriela has taken to sleeping in the backyard of her desert home in Barstow, California, in the Mojave Desert. Her bed, the one she shared with her husband, has become the battlefield she wants to forget. She half wants to be eaten by coyotes.

Meanwhile, Gabriela’s cat (Heather Peacock) is having a quasi love affair with a coyote (Nathan Fulton). I say “quasi” because we both know how that love tryst ends, and it ain’t too pretty for the domestic kitty.

Meanwhile, Gabriela’s 14-year-old neighbor boy, Martin (Sam Hayder), has taken to lusting for the lonely housewife. He’s making progress; he’s now sleeping next to the distraught young woman in her backyard hideaway. He’s all but certain he’s soon to lose his virginity.

Meanwhile, the moon (also Kaveh Haerian) watches over them all: he’ll exit when Benito returns come sunrise.

Jessica Garrett turns in a strong performance as the anxiety-filled young wife of the career army man Benito. For eleven years she has endured the deployments, the uncertainties, the constant moving to different cities and countries. For eleven years she has also endured her own lack of ambition and self-fulfillment. Unable to have children and now finding herself stuck in a minimum wage job at Costco (to be fair, Costco pays well above minimum wage these days), she wants more.

Kaveh Haerian’s performance as Benito is riveting. Psychologically wounded yet determined to have the army work for him as a career and a way out of poverty, his second act performance insures that the audience is rooting for these two soul mates. Torn asunder by his love for the army and his love for his wife, a wife who now wants him to leave the army to save their marriage, their no-win situation begs for understanding.

Sam Hayder as the 14-year-old boy next door is all sweetness and charm until he isn’t. Who was that bad boy gangster that left Gabriela’s house in a huff? Perhaps, he was nothing more than a chicken hawk wanna be tough guy.

As for the two animals, Heather Peacock’s domestic kitty really shines in act 2 when she’s purring up a storm. And Nathan Fulton’s spirit coyote–well, he captures the essence if not the walk of that totem’s sly dog ways.

Director Steven J. Satta captures the drama of References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot, particularly making the exchanges between Garrett and Haerian vivid and engaging. He has less success solving the challenge of the play’s Dalí-esque premise. The surreality of the play’s opening and closing dialogue demands a theatricality of dreamscape and childish abandon. We in the audience are left to imagine our own possibilities.

The design team of Samantha Kuczynski (sets), Julie Potter (costumes), and Alec Lawson (lights) did a credible job creating the multi-dimensional mythopoetic space, even if lighting for scene 1 was way too dim for my old eyes.

Single Carrot is most definitely a theatre with a mission, and with its new space on North Howard Street, in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood, their vibrant spirit fills the air. This reference to Salvador Dalí  keeps that mission moving forward with a passion. Not only does it continue to celebrate the imagination in visceral ways, but it continues to look at the important issues of the day.

Go see References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot. On such stuff are revolutions made.

Running Time: 2 hours with one ten-minute intermission.

References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot plays through February 8, 2015 at Single Carrot Theatre— 2600 North. Howard Street in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 844-9253, or purchase them online.

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