Muddy Waters

MUD, presented by Theatre UCSB. At UCSB’s Performing Arts Theatre, Friday, February 16. Shows through February 24.

Reviewed by Elena Gray-Blanc

Mud_McDaniel.jpgDespite its moments of philosophical depth and outré humor, Theatre UCSB’s new production of MUD was difficult to approach. Maria Irene Fornes has won multiple awards for her writing, and her craft is evident in this piece — every word is chosen with care and precision. However, the flip side of each phrase’s polish is its lack of any organic quality. Very few portions of the play had the feeling of realistic conversation; suspension of disbelief was shelved in favor of a tone of sharp modernity.

The play opens with Mae (Christy Escobar) and Lloyd (Dakotah Brown), two young, impoverished, and illiterate farmers, in the middle of an aggressive confrontation with disturbing sexual overtones. Their staccato stichomythia sets the stage for everything to follow. The play takes on an intense, repetitive, and syncopated rhythm; Mae, Lloyd, and middle-aged Henry (Brennan Kelleher), the third side of the play’s love triangle, fling words back and forth. Pauses come only when the actors and the audience have been stretched to a breaking point.

Although the characters’ powerful feelings were absorbing, they were sometimes overshadowed by Mae’s unceasing stridency. While both Lloyd and Henry had moments of boisterous self-assertion, Mae existed more as a focal point for the two men who desire her than as a rounded individual, and seemed to be fighting this by overemphasizing each passing thought. Her struggle to achieve something beyond her limited and ignorant life could have felt more genuine had it been portrayed with restraint.

The delicate undertones of social commentary that ran throughout the play, however, more than compensated for the lack of subtlety in Mae’s characterization. Fornes touches on issues of race, class, gender, and ultimately, the meaning of humanity. At one point, Mae says she feels her time is not of value, because she herself has no worth as a person. Yet by the end of the play, she knows she is valuable no matter how others perceive her, and she forces Lloyd and Henry to see her as an individual. Despite any flaws, MUD, like Mae, is unique, and very much worth the time.

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