Barstow is that backwater where you stop for gas on the way to Vegas, a high desert California town otherwise ignorable. But the Barstow of Jose Rivera’s References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot can get as steamy as late-night Cinemax. When G.I. Benito comes home to Barstow not long after the Persian Gulf War, he also comes home to a wife, Gabriela, who is simultaneously turned on by his manliness and repulsed by his soldier-boy callousness. Gabriela wants the husband she knew before war changed him, a man capable of lust and tenderness. Benito, none too bright, believes his wife doesn’t know what she wants or why.
Moxie Theatre’s production of References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, directed by Dana Harrel, basks in all of Puerto Rican playwright Rivera’s sensual poetry and magical realism, some of it more distracting than conducive to the storytelling. But by and large it doesn’t matter much: this is a surrealistic work whose peripheral characters include a wayward house cat (Anna Rebek), a predatory coyote (Steven Lone) and the moon (John Padilla), who descends from the night skies to dance with and hopefully seduce the remarkably sexy Gabriela (Jacqueline Grace Lopez). Also with the goal of seduction – he’ll settle for being seduced, too – is the young teen Martin (Apollo Blatchley), panting after Gabriela nearly as hungrily as the coyote pants after the cat.
Gabriela seems to entertain these overtures, but her body and soul are reserved for Benito – if he could only be the man he once was. The couple’s confessions, admonitions and second-act coupling don’t resolve the question, and you wonder whether they really want any of that to do so. Or is passion, of whatever stripe, passion? The moon looks down from the heavens, the cat and coyote lurk on the perimeter, and sex, love and battle scars swirl about in the tenacious desert dust. References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot harbors lofty romantic aspirations and metaphorical ambitions, but it’s self-conscious and at times frustrating. Lopez and Rodriguez generate plenty of physical heat, but their rants and articulated regrets or disappointments leave you cold.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.