Playwright Fernando Dovalina says The Comfort of Anger is a work in progress, and he’s right. It’s not there yet.
The lean cast (four actors, two handling 11 roles between them) does the best it can with multiple balls in the air, but perhaps 70 Fringe minutes aren’t enough to handle rape, abortion, giving a child up for adoption, inability to contract lasting relationships, psychiatrist/client relationship, Latino racial discrimination and society’s reluctance to accept an older woman/younger man love affair. I think that’s it, but I might have missed something.
These are big and important topics, some of them relatively unexplored, and Fringe is a good place to air them. But perhaps not all at once.
Dovalina understands that Fringe audiences want to laugh and gives them reason to, despite his dark subject matter. Dan DeLeon, as Emilio, an engaging gay man, has the easiest time of it, but the other three actors have their work cut out for them. Dolly Fischer as Dalia Rios, who has taken comfort in her anger down the years, is a little too wooden in her role. We need to see more dash and fire, more reason she's attractive to a man so much younger. It’s not enough to display those traits only with her therapist.
Anthony Hernandez and Jada August, who respectively juggle four and seven roles, work hard but need more specific costume changes to let us know who they are.
Hernandez, in particular, goes from one gray-ish outfit to another and, even though he works valiantly to differentiate, we’re not always sure who he is. August’s hair, defiantly unnatural in color, is a cheerful note but could be covered more often as she moves from role to role to help us know someone else is in her shoes.
Anyone who’s been in therapy will recognize the therapist’s maddening “What do you think?” when Dalia tries to get some guidance on how to weigh her experiences. Sure enough, she finds the answer in herself and, because we’re in a 70-minute framework, she finds it with amazing speed. There’s a pretty funny moment when she initiates a shared drink with the doctor, who unaccountably has a decanter and two glasses at his elbow.
A minimalist stage set accommodates three locations: Dahlia’s bedroom, the psychotherapist’s office and a bistro. All this works just fine, as sets aren’t a high priority during Fringe. A surprising, even daring, inclusion is a looking glass — perhaps because Dahlia refers to Alice in Wonderland?
Actual mirrors are seldom put onstage, because they reflect different things to different spots in the audience and can be distracting. This one showed me a view of Emilio I didn’t get from my seat, his white clothing turned rosy from the stage lights, an extraneous moment. It might be a good idea to cloud that looking glass.
This play has gone through several readings and had one open dress rehearsal before its Cincinnati appearance. It’s been cut from the original two-act, two-hour length to fit Fringe expectations, accounting for the plethora of themes, I suppose.
There are fresh ideas here and a will to get them in circulation. As this work-in-progress continues its progress, one can’t help but wish it well.
(Get upcoming performance dates and venue details here.)