Theater / Film
Review: Obstructed Desire
La matemática del deseo (The Mathematics of Desire), written and directed by Yoshvani Medina and performed at ArtSpoken in Little Havana, opens with a predictably unhappy couple. Tarah (Yrelkah Brown) talks too much. Ben (Juan David Ferrer) has a hot temper. She uses sex as a bargaining chip, withholding it until Ben can bring home more money; whereas Ben is sexually virile and perpetually horny.
The Mathematics of Desire looks closely at the strain under which contemporary relationships try to survive. Technology, pornography, and materialism are all factors in the tension between Tarah and Ben. When the couple arrives at a hotel for a romantic weekend to try and jump start their relationship, they are already bickering. Ben has been filming the entire trip. He would also like to film them having sex – all of this to Tarah’s disgust and dismay.
Luckily, a mysterious painter, Fedra Ostermeier (Yenilen Mola), throws a wrench into this rigid gender paradigm. She is a commercially successful artist who lives on her own terms. She seduces Ben and Tarah and seems to have more wisdom and savvy than the two of them put together. Oh, and she lives in a mental hospital. Inspired by the iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, Fedra checked herself voluntarily into a mental institution and has lived there for years. Mola does an impressive job of expressing the duality of Fedra’s mental imbalance.
Medina has created a volatile love triangle, and much of it smacks of real life – the fragility of monogamy, the resentment of couples under financial pressure, the tension between fantasy and real life. Medina’s direction pushes toward symbolic gestures, sensual movements, and highly intense dialogues with quick changes from scene to scene, and this talented trio keeps up with the pace, intensity, and physicality of their roles. Juan David Ferrer balances Ben’s dark moods with moments of well-timed wit, especially when he is sparring with Tarah.
The Mathematics of Desire has great potential as a treatise on modern love and as a deeply psychological portrait of contemporary relationships. However, three fourths of the way through, it feels as though the playwright remembered he wanted this to be a thriller, and he resorts to some predictable whodunit plot twists – murder, blackmail, and a surprise victor. This gives the last 20 minutes or so a rushed, frenetic feel.
The Mathematics of Desire contains full nudity, and I’m not sure it’s necessary. I found the actors’ corporal expression sufficiently visceral. What’s more, full nudity on a small stage and in such close proximity to the audience for an extended period of time can be distracting. Another element that adds chaos to the production is the set design. Numerous plastic milk crates are stacked, dismantled, and moved around throughout the production to create a sense of different venues (a restaurant, bar, bedroom, etc.). I admired the actors’ ability to contort themselves around the myriad crate configurations and there were a few visually arresting moments, but overall, I found the crate shuffling problematic, especially considering ArtSpoken’s very small stage and limited sight lines. A more stripped down set would underscore the play’s strength (its actors).
The play is performed in Spanish with English supertitles. On opening night, the supertitles fell out of sync early on and never reappeared, but they will be corrected for the rest of the show’s run.
‘Mathematics of Desire,’ presented by ArtSpoken, runs through May 29, Friday and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m., at ArtSpoken, 1167 SW 6th St., Miami; $25 at the door and $20 with a reservation; in Spanish with English supertitles; www.artspokenmiami.com.