Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley

Two River Theater
Review by Cameron Kelsall

Luis Moreno, VarĂ­n Ayala, and Gabriel Gutiérrez
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
The complicated relationship between fathers and sons has fascinated playwrights since the invention of the art form. It is a theme that transcends age, race, socioeconomic status, time, and nationality. And it is squarely at the center of Barbara Colio's Ropes, an intriguing but ultimately tedious one-act that is receiving its U.S. premiere at Two River Theater in Red Bank.

The unnamed paterfamilias of the unnamed family at the heart of Ropes never takes the stage, but his influence permeates the proceedings. We are told that he is the greatest tightrope walker in the world, a man so dedicated to his daring art that he left his family without so much as a word 30 years earlier. Now, on the eve of his retirement, he invites his three grown sons to make the journey to his final exhibition—a trip that encompasses traversing distances both physical and emotional.

The sons—all named for musicians of the classic rock 'n' roll era—may be adults, but it is clear that they are emotionally stunted by their father's abandonment. Presley (Luis Moreno) is a successful construction magnet who seems to have it all, but he struggles with his wife's desire to have a child, fearing that he will crack under the pressure of parenthood like his own dad. Paul (Varin Ayala) exists in a state of permanent limbo, barely getting by on hand-me-downs from Presley. Prince (Gabriel Gutiérrez) is free-spirited and professes to live an open and uncomplicated life, yet it becomes quickly clear that he is full of secrets. We follow the brothers through airports, taxis, bars, and—briefly—a holding cell in customs as they try to make sense of their past and wipe the slate clean for their future.

Colio, who is Mexican, stretches the universality of the situation; no cities are named, and it is not clear where the brothers have traveled from or where the acrobatic performance is taking place. The play is presented in translation by Maria Alexandria Beech, who appears to be reaching for a style both poetic and laconic. The play is punctuated by direct-address monologues that are supposed to feel profound and universal, but which mostly try the audience's patience.

Lisa Rothe's production is handsome and makes good use of Two River's 99-seat Marion Huber Theater. However, she struggles to keep the actors in the same rhythm. Moreno does not possess the charisma that Presley requires; he plays him as too much of a sad sack. That is surely one element of his complicated persona, but it can't be the only one. Ayala's Paul is weirdly affected; he draws out each word, even "and" and "the," as if it were a piece of classical ornamentation. Only Gutiérrez is entirely successful at capturing Prince's alluring and enigmatic nature.

Tolstoy famously wrote that all happy families are alike; the unhappy ones are imbued with their own unique set of challenges. That may be true, but it doesn't mean that their struggles are interesting to the rest of us. Ropes proves that even the tried and true formula of family drama can still come off as shaky as a man on a wire.

Ropes continues through March 20, 2016, at Two River Theater's Marion Huber Theater (21 Bridge Avenue in Red Bank, New Jersey). Tickets ($20-70) can be purchased online at, by phone (732-345-1400), or in person at the box office (Monday-Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 12pm to 5pm; and one hour prior to all performances). Please note: The matinee (3pm) performance on Saturday, March 5, will be performed entirely in Spanish.

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