Before we get into the "intense language, violence, and adult situations" the Miracle Theatre's PR has promised with El Grito del Bronx, let's talk about what pulls this production above the sound and fury, and into the near-sublime.
That would be Matthew Dieckman's jaw-droppingly nuanced performance as Papo, an inmate on death row for the 18 murders he's committed. Dieckman takes a psycho killer with an aesthete's intuition and embodies those contradictions in mannerisms familiar to anyone who's been spare-changed at Pioneer Courthouse Square. To call Dieckman's performance "gritty" doesn't cover it. Instead, the countless decisions with which he fleshes out Papo force a subtle, though powerful, confrontation with those who prefer their morality pat and their monsters soulless.
It's hard to imagine how El Grito del Bronx would work any other way. Migdalia Cruz's unwieldy script barely achieves a semblance of structure by using the wedding of Papo's sister Lulu (Cristi Miles) as a framing device. While every exchange of vows symbolizes a turning point, Lulu's represents a turning away from her family's horrid legacy—spousal abuse, AIDS, and murder—to the sweet bourgeoisie. To paraphrase film critic Anthony Lane, it's a hell of a play—if you can take the hell.
Perhaps Dieckman's most dazzling move comes in a scene that calls upon him to view his sister as both his flesh-and-blood and a sex object. Rather than leer, Papo's eyes longingly search Lulu's for the connection they lost when their lives took opposing paths. As great as Antonio Sonera's direction is throughout, you could drop Papo's gaze in a Punch and Judy show and it would humanize the hysteria. In fact, that just might be what's happened here.