George Street Playhouse presents inventive production of existential love story, ‘Baipás’

baipas review

PHOTOS BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON

Maggie Bofill and Jorge Luna co-star in George Street Playhouse’s production of “Baipás.”

“Who could they be?,” asks Antonio, looking out into the audience of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in George Street Playhouse’s current production of “Baipás,” by the Oscar-nominated Puerto Rican writer Jacobo Morales.

“Spectators in some strange play?,” Lorena responds.

As an audience member, it throws you off guard, of course, to be talked about in a play. But throwing people off guard seems to be much of Morales’ strategy in this unusual and, in some ways, avant-garde play, which George Street Playhouse is presenting in its English language premiere.

Lorena (Maggie Bofill), a successful designer, and Antonio (Jorge Luna), a politician and lawyer, begin the play off-balance themselves, thrown together in a box (designed by Wilson Chin) that, we soon learn, represents a rather sleek and artful take on Purgatory.

Death may be imminent. But for the moment, they are still alive, fighting for life at the same hospital. Lorena has attempted suicide; Antonio has suffered a heart attack.

Maggie Bofill and Jorge Luna in “Baipas.”

So they represent the souls of these two people. And while their bodies undergo treatment, they have to wait and see what happens. But they also seem to have some choice in the matter of whether they return to the bodies, or proceed to whatever lies beyond Purgatory.

“Baipás” means “bypass,” which applies to Antonio’s heart ailment, I suppose, but also is suggestive of the location they are in, a kind of “bypass” from one state of being to another.

While they’re there, and keeping an eye on what is going on with their bodies at the hospital, they have little to do but talk. At first, they’re both bewildered, like two strangers who have found themselves marooned together on an island in the middle of the ocean. But they’re able to make some sense of what is happening. Later, their relationship grows romantic. They dance, and their relationship becomes more intimate.

We, the audience members, are seen murkily by them. And they think some of us are people they have known, though they are frustrated by their inability to communicate with us or get us to respond to what they are saying.

We learn about their lives, their past relationships, their joys and their regrets, as well as the fact that they knew each other, slightly, in life. Morales’ dialogue also gets quite philosophical at times. The setting changes, thanks to gorgeous projections by Caite Hevner. And Jason Lyons’ lighting design, which extends beyond the stage, helps add to the idea that we — actors and audience — are all in this box together.

For all of the cleverness in the writing, though, and the stylishness of Julio Monge’s direction and choreography, I can’t say I loved “Baipás.” It felt stuck in a sort of limbo itself: The love story was too simple and straightforward to engage me, and as an existential drama, I didn’t feel it was profound enough to be truly satisfying.

On the other hand, its inventive presentation did at least make it dazzling on that level. And so it was, ultimately, a memorable experience.

George Street Playhouse presents “Baipás” at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center through March 20. Visit georgestreetplayhouse.org.

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