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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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