Barstow is that backwater where you stop for gas on the way to Vegas, a high-desert California town otherwise ignorable. But the Barstow of José Rivera's References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot can get as steamy as late-night Cinemax. When G.I. Benito comes home to Barstow not long after the Persian Gulf War, he also comes home to a wife, Gabriela, who's simultaneously turned on by his manliness and repulsed by his soldier-boy callousness. Gabriela wants the husband she knew before war changed him, a man capable of lust and tenderness. Benito, none too bright, believes his wife doesn't know what she wants or why.
Moxie Theatre's production, directed by Dana Harrel, basks in all of Puerto Rican playwright Rivera's sensual poetry and magical realism, some of it more distracting than conducive to the storytelling. But, by and large, it doesn't matter much: This is a surrealistic work whose peripheral characters include a wayward house cat (Anna Rebek), a predatory coyote (Steven Lone) and the moon (John Padilla), who descends from the night skies to dance with, and hopefully seduce, the remarkably sexy Gabriela (Jacqueline Grace Lopez). Another whose goal is seduction—he'll settle for being seduced, too—is the young teen Martin (Apollo Blatchley), panting after Gabriela nearly as hungrily as the coyote pants after the cat.
Gabriela seems to entertain these overtures, but her body and soul are reserved for Benito (Jorge Rodríguez)—if he could only be the man he once was. The couple's confessions, admonitions and second-act coupling don't resolve the question of who Benito is and what their marriage has become. You wonder whether the pair wants a resolution at all. Or is passion, of whatever stripe, passion? The moon looks down from the heavens, the cat and coyote lurk on the perimeter, and sex, love and battle scars swirl about in the tenacious desert dust. References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot harbors lofty romantic aspirations and metaphorical ambitions, but it's self-conscious and at times frustrating. Lopez and Rodríguez generate plenty of physical heat, but their rants and articulated regrets or disappointments leave you cold.
References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot runs through May 5 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. $25-$27. moxietheatre.com
—David L. Coddon
An Ideal Husband: Oscar Wilde's play, set in 1890s London, follows a scheming woman's attempt to blackmail a member of the House of Commons. Opens April 26 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Billy Elliot: The musical adaptation of the 2000 film tells the story of a working-class, preteen boxer who aspires to become a ballet dancer in 1980s England. Elton John wrote the music. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it runs April 30 through May 5 at the Civic Theatre, Downtown. broadwaysd.com
Coffee Shop Chronicles: Seven 10-minute plays by San Diego playwrights will be performed—simultaneously and rotated so audiences can see them all—in two dining rooms at The Big Kitchen in South Park. Desert included. newplaycafe.com
Other Desert Cities: A novelist visits her famous parents in Palm Springs amid her plans to publish a memoir that unearths an unpleasant family secret. Opens April 27 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Wagner New Play Festival: Five plays, including two full-lengths, two one-acts performed together and a staged reading, comprise this year's series of plays written and produced by UCSD graduate students. Through April 27 at three theaters at UCSD. theatre.ucsd.edu
Assassins : A carnival shooting gallery is the starting point for a musical about nine killers or would-be-killers of U.S. presidents. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through April 28 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler : This comedy shows us the fate of Hedda Gabler and other literary figures after we last left them. Through April 28 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Damien : In a one-actor production, Robert Smyth reprises his role as a Belgian priest who ministered to people suffering from leprosy on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Through May 5 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The Odd Couple : A fussy news writer's wife throws him out of the house, so he moves in with a grubby sports writer. Will they kill each other? Through May 5 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot : A struggling Gulf War vet returns home to his heartsick wife in the California desert in a play that's alternately real and surreal. Through May 5 at Moxie Theatre in Rolando. moxietheatre.com
Pageant : You pick the winner in a musical comedy about a beauty contest. Through May 12 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net