In her 2007 drama “Waxing West,” now in a West Coast premiere at Brava! For Women in the Arts, Romanian-born, New York-based playwright Saviana Stanescu takes a sympathetic look at the psyche of a troubled young would-be mail-order bride.
Thirtysomething Daniela (an appealing Beatrice Basso) leaves her mother and brother behind in Romania and arrives in New York expecting to marry Charlie.
She imagines she’ll be rich and happy in America; she’ll learn how to use credit cards and microwave ovens and she’ll forget about a country still reeling from life under ruthless Communist dictators Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu.
But Charlie doesn’t want the conventional married life that Daniela expects (and he has weird sexual proclivities, too), and her most soulful contact is with a homeless street person who’s obsessed with Gilgamesh.
Working as an independent cosmetologist (waxing women’s legs) but mired in ambivalence and confusion, Daniela makes forays into lesbianism with Charlie’s dykey sister, Gloria, and develops a shoplifting habit.
And she is haunted by the Ceausescus, who were executed a decade earlier and who appear in her nightmares (and apparently in her waking thoughts, too), as avaricious vampires observing her every move and encouraging her to do bad things.
The action plays out nonlinearly in about a dozen (overlong) scenes that go back and forth from Bucharest to New York over 17 months, ending on 9/11 exactly. Throughout, Daniela struggles with her new life even as she’s dealing with her past.
Occasionally she addresses the audience directly.
But under Vidhu Singh’s direction, with the other four actors playing multiple roles apiece, the play never coalesces.
It’s hard to know exactly what Stanescu intended — in terms of characters, relationships, tone, style and pace — when most of the cast is overacting and overloud, trying so hard, and so clumsily, to be funny even while they’re slow on their cues; when the stage presentation is so physically static and awkward, leaving the actors to stand around doing nothing much of the time; and when even the set and sound design fail to add up to a cohesive picture.
A few scenes between Basso’s Daniela and Molly Shaiken’s frustrated Gloria ring true, and Basso is generally on track in depicting the eager-to-please but lost Daniela.
Yet with all the inchoate sound and fury surrounding her, for the most part she can’t really make her interactions and her inner turmoil feel entirely authentic.
Presented by Brava! For Women in the Arts/RasaNova Theater
Where: Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes May 18
Contact: (415) 641-7657, www.brava.org