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‘Blade’ must cut excess

By Daily Bruin Staff

April 2, 1996 9:00 pm

Tuesday, April 2, 1996

By Jennifer Richmond

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Homosexuality in the boxing ring could be an interesting subject
for an intense play.

Unfortunately Oliver Mayer’s "Blade to the Heat" never achieves
that potential. His drama ends up being another tired play about
men coming to terms with their homosexuality.

Pedro Quinn (Ray Oriel) has just beaten the undefeated
Mantequilla Decima (Dominic Hoffman) in a boxing match. Although
Quinn is gay, he can’t mention it in the ring because he’ll be
teased for it. But one of the trainers knows and uses it to help
Decima win back the title.

This would be easy, if Decima wasn’t so confused himself. Decima
has a girlfriend, but when an opponent calls him a "maricón"
(a Spanish slur for gay) during a fight, Decima begins to wonder.
This one slur haunts him for the rest of the play and his
career.

These are only two of the stories in this 90-minute drama.
There’s also the trainers’ pasts which affect their training
methods. There’s the love story between Decima and his girlfriend,
Sarita (Justina Machado). There’s the relationship between Quinn
and his "friend" Garnet (Hassan El-Amin), and there’s the ongoing
tension between the three fighters, Quinn, Decima and Vinal who is
the first to bring the gay issue to Decima’s attention.

Sound confusing? It’s even worse on stage. Because the
production is so short, it’s hard to keep track of the individual
stories. Every scene focuses on a different group of characters and
their own issues. It’s almost like watching a group of mini-plays
that all have boxing in common.

The problems don’t end there. It’s obvious Mayer wanted to write
a character driven drama, but the play is too short for that.
That’s the reason the show seems to be bursting at the seams: Mayer
simply crammed too much into "Heat."

Despite the numerous stories that make up the drama, Mayer
writes a few winning moments in the tragedy. His saving graces are
the characters Vinal and Garnet. Vinal is the boxer who sets the
wheels spinning in Decima’s head and Garnet does the same for
Quinn.

Mayer makes everything clear for an instant when he writes
Vinal’s monologue expounding the reasons behind getting into the
ring. Some boys start boxing to look sexy for the women, while
others join to mingle with the other men while being turned on by
the sweat that pours off their bodies. This monologue not only
makes the play understandable, it proves that Mayer can write a
moving piece of material when he’s focused.

Garnet also proves Mayer’s writing ability. Garnet is the
classic character who’s torn between what he wants and what he
knows is right. Mayer makes this split even clearer by making
Garnet an impersonator. But it’s not just Mayer’s dialogue that
makes Garnet a delight; Hassan El-Amin breathes life and passion
into him as well.

El-Amin is a wonderful impersonator, especially as James Brown.
His torn desires are so clear they’re painful to watch. The song he
sings as himself rather than as the men he impersonates has a
double meaning. Not only is Garnet finally revealing his true self,
he’s telling Quinn through his dedication that the song is for him.
The scene is touching and so terribly upsetting when he’s booed and
then fired for being something he’s not ­ himself. Garnet has
bared all and has gotten hurt because of it.

Unfortunately these two men and their lines are the only
positives in Mayer’s dull "Blade." If he’d focused on just Decima
and Quinn without all the extras, "Heat" would have been a
knockout. But as it stands right now, it’s a fight between the
audience and the drama, and the audience is the loser.

STAGE: "Blade to the Heat." Written by Oliver Mayer. Running
through May 5 at the Mark Taper Forum. Performs Tuesday through
Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7:30 p.m. with matinees on Saturday
and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. TIX: $28-35.50. For more info, call: (213)
365-3500.

(l to r): Dominic Hoffman, Gerrit Graham, Ray Oriel and Ellis
Williams star in Oliver Mayer’s new drama "Blade to the Heat."

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