Faded: Sharp Writing, Blurry Play
In Robert Dominguez' play, a faded photograph has the power to shock the most jaded of tabloid reporters, drive a man to murder, and completely scramble a woman's moral code.Although neither name is so much as whispered, there's not much doubt that the blonde bombshell "doing her country a service" while in a compromising position is Marilyn Monroe--and that the country being serviced is led by JFK. This sensational discovery is at the heart of the sharply-written yet disappointing Faded, which is playing the 10th International New York International Fringe Festival through August 26th. Although Dominguez' dialogue sometimes stings like black coffee and the author provocatively explores the media's way of turning souls into spin, the play isn't able to transcend its lurid potboiler trappings. The photo was "discovered" by the tough-talking Max (detailed and scene-stealing character work by Michael Perri), who attempts to fund a posh old age by selling it to The Daily Scoop's leggy Lolita Lacey. Lolita (Angie Kristic), once a high-powered TV reporter for ABC News, has been reduced to writing tabloid stories not far removed from pieces on "Elvis helping to hunt down Osama Bin Laden." A scandal involving a married reporter and the Hilton Hotel pool has effectively driven her into alcoholic ruin, and into the arms of the Scoop's soulless editor, the aptly-named "Woody" Dunwood (Carlos Molina). Lolita's initial eagerness to use the photo to reignite her career is soon shaken. Lucy (Amneris Morales), the moll of a famous gangster, commits suicide--right on voice mail, no less--after the Scoop prints news of a pregnancy that was confided to Lolita off-the-record. More complications ensue as Lolita increasingly resolves not to let the Scoop print the racy picture that she feels would turn the blonde sex symbol from a complex legend to a cheap joke. Dominguez' forte is with dialogue; the characters' speech, which is often very funny, tends toward a punchy, hard-boiled and somewhat crass newsroom vernacular (think Walter Winchell with a pinch of Jacqueline Susann). And he depicts with anger and conviction a world where the value of a person's life is sometimes considered to be worth less than the ink spilled on it. While the play gets off to a promising start, though, its potboiler conventions soon swell to operatic proportions. There's bribery (both monetary and sexual), suicide, murder, betrayal, and a "shocking" revelation about the nature of the faded photo. Some of these plot twists are entertaining enough, but eventually, Faded has become a little ludicrous (director Veronica Caicedo keeps the reins on the melodramatic moments). Dominguez--whose play is admirably acted by a mostly Hispanic cast--also comes down hard on sexism and racism, and while this adds an interesting dimension, it doesn't always add toward rich characterizations. It's not enough for Woody to be an unscrupulous womanizing cad with a journalistic casting couch--he also has to make insensitive racist jokes about Jennifer Lopez' backside. The other male characters aren't much better with their treatment of women. Sure, some guys are like that, but one who respected women might have made for a nice dramatic contrast.
Kristic ably plays Lolita with a tough sultriness, and Belangue Rodriguez appealingly connives through the role of Lolita's rival Evita (whose last name might as well be Harrington). Morales turns in a particularly sensitive performance as the moll Lucy, whose telling all to Lolita isn't prompted by a desire for money or publicity, but for letting her imprisoned gangster lover know how deeply she cares about him.
Here and there, Dominguez--who is a columnist and critic for the New York Daily News--slips in an inside joke. Lolita says at one point, "The Daily News will hire me. They have one Latino writer and he sucks." The talented playwright of Faded is being way too harsh on himself. Perhaps next time, though, he might focus his lens on a play that's a little more muted in its tones.
Visit www.fringenyc.org for tickets and more information.
Photo--Amneris Morales, Belangue Rodriguez, Carlos Molina and Angie Kristic