Salsa Saved the Girls

Rose Martula
Old Red Lion
(2007)

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Transfers of American fringe productions, especially when they are by highly regarded young playwrights, must always be welcomed. They should give us a rather better idea of what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic than the innumerable soap operas and sitcoms with which we are constantly bombarded.

Rose Martula is based in Los Angeles and has already been tipped as one of the "Fifty Playwrights to Watch" by the Dramatists Guild of America. Sadly, in this hyperactive production directed by Rachel Parish, the promise that garnered rave reviews for this play in L.A. is only seen in occasional bursts.

Salsa Saved the Girls is set in the Long Island family home of thirtysomething Cali, played by Harriet Usher. Designer Alexandra Mann excels herself with a living room cum bar decorated in vibrant colours and overlooked by a mural featuring two pink flamingos. There are also several leopardskin allusions, not least a rug that looks suspiciously like the remains of a dead animal.

There, Cali does a fine impression of mutton dressed as lamb, squeezed into sparkly purple slacks two sizes too small and a revealing leopardskin-style top. She is dressed like this to welcome her new toyboy, Simon Lee Phillips as Bobby, but gets three times the fun as her possessive ex-husband and an eccentric ex-lover turn up too.

This party might have been fraught with agonies anyway, but Cali shares the house with her two daughters, bored Sabrina and the incredibly irritating Kai, a 14-year-old primadonna ballerina, who in this performance behaves far more like an eight-year-old.

While the men suffer from competitive fever and insecurity, Cali and the girls are little better off. With drink and drugs flowing into both adults and children, Salsa Saved the Girls sees each of its characters posturing to excess.

Simon Cole as anal husband Louis compares macho credentials with Bobby while the third man, Simon is something else. Played by Matthew Hendrickson as a gibbering wreck in embarrassing leopardskin underwear, this Cali-stalker arrives following an unfortunate attack by a half-crazed, albino skunk. He blubbers embarrassingly and takes a long time to announce to the assembled party that despite his inability to string three words together he is a psychiatrist who drives a Porsche.

For far too much of the time all of the actors, with the honourable exception of co-producer Erin Hunter playing Sabrina, feel obliged to shout and move around constantly. This is reminiscent either of somebody who has queued too long for the cloakroom at a party; or possibly the host of one of those game shows on a cheap TV channel desperately trying to spin out the agony.

The characters' motivations lack consistency and the play relies far too much on the shock value of unlikely revelations. In its calmer moments, we see a series of lost souls trying to find themselves in a society that has gone off the rails, which is presumably Miss Martula's point and might well have been developed to great effect.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher