It’s no coincidence that playwright Emilio Rodriguez has one of his characters in his new play “Spin”, currently in production at Ann Arbor’s Theatre Nova, carrying around a copy of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”. There are similarities between George and Lennie, Steinbeck’s mismatched companions, and the two characters in Rodriguez’s play.
Angelo (José Martinez) is easy going and articulate. The poetry he writes indicates a sensitive and intelligent person with the ability to express his feelings in a creative way. Mila (Matthew Webb) is an in-your-face street kid, tough and short-tempered. Though he says he has trouble reading cursive, he may, in fact not be able to read at all. But Mila has his own talents as the Rubik’s Cube he toys with during the play will later reveal. There is a slight racial component to the play; Angelo is a Latino, Mila an African American-Latina mix.
The two meet at a resident shelter for gay teenagers. As the play opens, Angelo has just been assigned the other bed in Mila’s room, where Mila has been staying for some time. Their initial encounter does not go well. Mila is upset that Angelo has displaced his prior roommate. Moreover, he finds Angelo’s personality and comportment to be at odds with his own. But just as George and Lennie find common ground in their dream of acquiring a piece of land they can farm on their own, Angelo and Mila discover their gayness and the rejection they have both experienced at the hands of their respective families have made them kindred spirits. As those similar experiences begin to be shared, mutual understanding and respect become a real possibility.
“Spin” is a slender play, clocking in at around 80 minutes. Its tensions lay not so much in a traditional plotline, but in whether the relationship between Angelo and Mila will reach a manageable conclusion. In his otherwise dramatic excursion into the lives of two gay teenagers, playwright Rodriguez has slipped in some hearty laughs, mostly the result of the differing personalities of his characters. He also has a good grip on the many heartbreaking issues that affect gay youth, and they’re all on display here.
Theatre Nova’s production, directed by Kennikki Jones, lays down a nicely realized interpretation of Rodriguez’s play. There’s good chemistry between Webb and Martinez, who turn out commendable performances alone and in tandem. Daniel C. Walker’s set consisting of two cots and a side table fills much of Theatre Nova’s intimate staging area.
A year ago, in a staged reading of the play at Theatre Nova, the show was entitled “Swimming While Drowning”. The current title still doesn’t seem right for the play, even though “Spin” is also the title of one of the self-penned poems Angelo reads throughout the course of the show. His poetry readings to an unseen audience some time after the actual events of the play have taken place add an element of theatricality to the show, but never quite measure up to the play’s “live action”. Poetry has its own unique structures, lyrical cadences, and manners of speech, the “poetry” of poetry, if you will, and verbalizing a poem but once is neither a good nor a sure way of having its meaning understood. By its very nature, poetry demands an intimate relationship between it and its reader, one which can be acquired only through multiple associations with it. That never happens in Angelo’s reading of his poetry.
“Spin” runs through July 10th. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested donation of $20 and are available by calling 734.635-8450. Theatre Nova is located at 416 W. Huron Street in the Yellow Barn, a stone’s throw off the road in downtown Ann Arbor.