Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review: 'Barcelona'

Bess Wohl's world premiere depicts a common tourist fantasy transformed into a powerful story of revenge and moral consequence.

Review: 'Barcelona'

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Robert Montano and Julianna Zinkel in 'Barcelona'
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By Jim Rutter


The theatre is an empty space. To some, this understanding can connote hope, freedom, the empty page, or represent the futility and confinement of a prison cell.  

Bess Wohl’s disturbing new play Barcelona strikes at the core of this dichotomy in both the literal and metaphorical sense.

Wohl fills her empty space with two lonely people in Barcelona. On a dare from her girlfriends, American tourist Irene (Julianna Zinkel) drags an older Spanish man (Robert Montano as Manuel) away from a bachelorette party to his garret apartment for a carefree fling.

Her drunkenness deteriorates into last minute regret, causing him to reveal his hatred for Americans. A battle of cultures ensues, indicting both sides: Europe’s lax response to terrorism and our imperialism, Old World work attitudes and American consumerism, ancient high culture and middlebrow Hollywood blockbusters.

Had Wohl’s script persisted in this vein, she would have merely wrought an insignificant clash of two personalities that would have left us wondering why Manuel never kicks her out.

Zinkel delivers a perfect performance of vacuity tinged by an undying optimism to match Montano’s world-weary despair. Director Jackson Gay focuses on the humor of their banter and avoids easy attempts to instill a sense of danger, instead letting the hostility percolate and cool enough for Wohl’s tourist fantasy to evolve into a play of personal loss, misplaced vengeance and moral consequence that challenges each character’s place not only in their own lives, but their right to exist at all.

“You came to a foreign land to have fun and find it’s more complicated” Manuel tells Irene during one of the evening’s more haunting moments. In this world premiere at People’s Light, he could have referenced Barcelona, the play, or the theatre itself.

To some, Wohl’s ending will insist on the promise of perseverance rather than the prolongation of emptiness. In either case, it’s been a long time since a new work has challenged the core of existence to trouble me this deeply.


Barcelona. Presented through June 23 at People’s Light and Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. Tickets: $25 to $45. Information: 610-644-3500 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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