LAST WEEKEND, Profile Theatre kicked off a brand-new season in a new home: Like a hermit crab upgrading its shell, the company moved from the now-shuttered Theater! Theatre! space in Southeast to lavish new digs at Artists Rep. Profile's unique model focuses on a different playwright each season, and 2014 is all Sam Shepard; in a bold move that ultimately backfires, they open their splashy new season with one of the Pulitzer winner's lesser-known plays, 1998's Eyes for Consuela.
There's a reason Eyes for Consuela doesn't have the name recognition of Buried Child or True West: Eyes is a problematic, half-baked sort of a script. A few intriguing elements emerge from the murk, but it lacks the ferocious vitality of Shepard's best work.
Henry (Michael Mendelson) is an American on vacation in a small Mexican town, where he hopes to clear his head after the collapse of his marriage. He begins each day with a ritual: "Me and my body. Here we are. Back together again," he mutters, uniting mind and body in the physical world even as his Mexican sabbatical turns into a waking nightmare. During a late-night walk outside of town, Henry is kidnapped by Amado, a bandit with sinister aims: He's collecting human eyes for his girlfriend, Consuela. She likes blue ones.
Henry, needless to say, would prefer to keep his eyes—and moreover, his eyes are brown, he insists. The two men end up drinking tequila together in Henry's hotel room, menace and buffoonery balanced on a machete's edge, as Amado reveals more about the mysterious Consuela.
There's plenty that's spooky and intriguing here, but the show's constituent parts never really snap together. The lighting and sound design are convincingly oppressive—it's hot in Mexico, y'know—but Michael Mendelson, ever likeable, is just plain miscast as the lead. As written, Henry is a troubled, slightly unhinged Texan, but Mendelson's loopy, antic performance scans as though a Woody Allen character wandered out of Manhattan into the Mexican countryside. And while American culture comes in for some sharp criticism, I'm not sure the exoticization of the locale is sufficiently addressed, especially given that Henry ultimately learns some Valuable Lessons from the Magical Natives. The show certainly looks good, but it's not Shepard's best work, nor is it Profile's. I'm holding out for Buried Child.