Playwright: Bernard Marie-Koltés, translated by Jeffrey Wainwright
At: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells
Phone: (312) 943-8722; $10
Runs through: Nov. 9
The setting is the underpass of a highway. A scruffily-attired muscle-boy attempting to cross from one lighted area to the other is accosted by a well-dressed older man. 'If you're walking here, at this time, in this place, you must want something' the oldster announces, adding that he thinks he may have it to give.
We hope he does, since he speculates for the next 10 minutes on the coincidence of their paths intersecting, using rhetoric such as 'man and beast' and 'he who buys and he who sells,' while his quarry stands mute. After an hour of listening to these two strangers—the younger of whom eventually contributes an opinion or two—ponder this topic with no noticeable progress, however, we conclude that In The Solitude Of Cotton Fields must be an allegory.
But of what? The immediate answer is drugs—the characters are designated 'The Dealer' and 'The Client.' Or a fantasy conjured by an aging cruiser on the prowl for a gullible hustler (in the style of John Rechy, albeit less overtly homoerotic). Then again, the dialogue might be that of a dominating father and rebellious son. The late Bernard-Marie Koltés (who died in 1989 of AIDS ) discourses in antecedents attached to no discernible nouns, his relentless abstraction relieved only by a Forcible Detention and a Tearful Breakdown, both occurring far too late in the play.
The industry of director Dexter Bullard and his actors as they wrestle with their nebulous subtexts is nothing less than heroic. As Dealer, Paul Dillon—who originated the role of Killer Joe in its premiere production, also directed by Bullard—projects a Nosferatu-like menace from the moment he emerges out of the shadows, the tension generated by his presence undiminished ('If you believe I've got violent designs on you,' he teases, pausing just longer than we expect before finishing, 'perhaps you're right.') even in the scenes when the script requires him to lighten up and be called 'daddy-o' by Lawrence Grimm's Client. At the preview performance I attended, the steely resolve of these artists in refusing to mock the drivel Koltés forces them to utter was positively spellbinding.