Barcelona Review - An Elegant Spanish Two-Step

The tale of a one-night stand marked by sangria and coitus - in that order - BARCELONA seems to be the simple story of a horny Spanish guy and a giddily drunk and sort-of-crazy American tourist sowing her wild oats. The longish first scene, with its contortionist variations and heavy breathing, leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind why the couple is here in this isolated apartment overlooking the Barcelona skyline with its world-famous basilica, La Sagrada Familia. But beware, audience. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

 

Carlos Leal and Betty Gilpin as Manuel and Irene - Photo by Michael Lamont

Irene is in Barcelona with her girlfriends for a bachelorette weekend before her imminent wedding when she is swept off her feet - well, foot, since she loses one shoe almost immediately - by the sexy and smoldering Manuel. Off they go to his loft, an apartment he uses when he’s in Barcelona from Madrid. Looking around the bathroom, Irene begins to suspect that the loft belongs to a woman. And something is bothering Manuel. He finally admits that the entire building is vacant and scheduled for demolition the next morning to make way for a shopping mall. Manuel hasn’t yet packed and definitely is in no hurry to do so. Fear and excitement merge as the play suggests some potential problems within problems.

 

Carlos Leal - Photo by Michael Lamont

Little by little, two strangers begin to reveal themselves to each other in tiny, almost imperceptible ways. With exquisite delicacy, playwright Bess Wohl slowly unravels the multiple personality layers in these two, American-as-they-come Irene from Denver (Betty Gilpin) and hot-as-Antonio-Banderas Manuel (Carlos Leal). BARCELONA is as twisty as a study in character can be and offers unexpected surprises just when the audience isn’t quite ready for them. All is not as it seems, and it is impossible to predict where things are going.

 

Betty Gilpin - Photo by Michael Lamont

Mark Wendland’s staging is an integral part of this tale, where Barcelona is really a third principal. Irene and Manuel are above it all, and yet they are part of the flow of life around them. Japhy Weideman’s lighting is crucial in the telling of this tale as darkness descends and then daylight slowly colors the sky - almost a metaphor for the goings-on in the dark and what they bring to light. The entire production crew manages to create a Barcelona for the audience, a Barcelona which is both fictional and real. Needless to say, symbolism and metaphors are part and parcel of this compelling production. Director Trip Cullman manages to balance carefully all aspects of this moving story; he knows when and how to push forward and pull back during this elegant Spanish dance.

Carlos Leal and Betty Gilpin - Photo by Michael Lamont

 

BARCELONA runs through March 13, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday. The Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse is located at 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $32 to $82. For reservations, call 310-208-5454 or go online at www.GeffenPlayhouse.com.

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