Reviewed by Judy Richter
Playwright José Rivera pays homage to his parents in "Boleros for the Disenchanted," being staged by American Conservatory Theater. He structures the story of their marriage in two parts. Act 1 takes place in Puerto Rico in 1953. The second takes place 39 years later, in Daleville, Ala. in 1992.
The first act focuses on his mother, Flora (Lela Loren), who is then 22 and heartbroken when she discovers that her fiance, Manuelo (Dion Mucciacito) has been unfaithful. Her mother, Doña Milla (Rachel Ticotin), tries to console her and to protect her from her drunken, abusive father, Don Fermin (Robert Beltran), who is angry at her rejection of Manuelo. Hoping she'll feel better with a change of scenery, they send her to visit her cousin Petra (Michele Vazquez) in another town. There she meets a National Guardsman, Eusebio (Drew Cortese), who's smitten with her. After a brief courtship, they get married and promptly announce that they're leaving the island and going to the mainland to improve their lot.
The second act finds Flora and Eusebio (played by Ticotin and Beltran, respectively) living near an Army base in Alabama. Their children have all grown and left home. Beltran is bedridden after losing both legs to diabetes. Flora is his primary caretaker, assisted by a kindly nurse, Eve (Loren). It's not a happy situation, but despite frequent bickering, they seem devoted to each other, holding their marriage up as an example to an engaged couple (played by Mucciacito and Vazquez). A priest (Cortese) makes a brief appearance at the insistence of Eusebio, who believes (wrongly) that he'll die very soon.
The action takes place on Ralph Funicello's sets, lit by Nancy Schertler with costumes by Sandra Woodall and sound by composer Fabian Obispo, who has written Spanish-tinged music. Although the play has several amusing moments as well as some lovely poetic passages, the 39-year time leap weakens it. We get little sense of how Flora and Eusebio's relationship and characters developed. Flora seems to have maintained her core values while maturing, but we don't get many clues that the kindly young Eusebio will turn out to be so much like her father. Carey Perloff's direction works for the most part, but Vazquez appears to have been directed to be too flirtatious as cousin Petra. Loren does well as the younger Flora and the nurse, but the standout performance comes from Ticotin as Flora's mother and then as the older Flora.