A man abandons his family — including his three young sons — in order to pursue his quest of becoming the world’s greatest tightrope walker. Now there’s a guy who could make an intriguing central character of a play.
Unfortunately, “Ropes,” which is at the Two River Theater in Red Bank through March 20 (for information, visit tworivertheater.org), is not about that guy. It’s about his sons, who, as written by Mexican playwright Bárbara Colio (the translation for this production was by Maria Alexandria Beech), aren’t very interesting at all.
Eldest son Presley (Luis Moreno) is a successful businessman — and doesn’t let anyone forget it. Youngest son Prince (Gabriel Gutiérrez) doesn’t seem the least bit interested in living as a responsible, gainfully employed adult. Middle son Paul (Varín Ayala) is a sensitive soul who is, well, caught somewhere in the middle, not as successful as Presley but more conventional than Prince. In the course of the play, Colio has them travel together, at the request of their father, to see him do one last tightrope walk (metaphor alert!) without a net.
The brothers — who feel a similar emptiness, because of their father’s abandonment — fight over the course of the one-act play’s 90 minutes, and bond. They talk about their significant others, but not in a way that makes these secondary, unseen characters come alive. Colio builds to a final scene that’s full of poetic revelation, but makes the journey to get there too aimless.
In most of the scenes, the brothers are waiting in one part of an airport or another, talking. And it soon becomes clear that not only do they have only distant memories of their father — he left when they were 8, 7 and 5, respectively — but they barely know each other, either.
The cities from which the brothers are traveling, and to which they are going, are never named. The sets are all almost totally bare, which is evocative of both the anonymity of the airports they pass through, and the sense that these characters are lost, with no way to get their bearings.
Even their names — their parents named them after Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney and Prince — contribute to a sense of disconnection: These are three pop icons, but from three different generations — three different worlds, really. How many people who idolize Elvis Presley enough to name a child after him also feel the same way about Prince? Yes, Presley, the character, is headstrong, like Elvis, and Paul has a McCartneyesque sweetness to him, and Prince is a restless guy with a chip on his shoulder, just like his namesake. But that contrivance undermines the play’s sense of realism.
But that’s the thing about “Ropes.” It specifically about one very troubled family, but it’s also kind of abstract. That’s a tough highwire act to negotiate.