Theatre review: Cal Rep’s production of Mud at Cal State Long Beach


Photo by Kip Polakoff

From left: Kimberly English (Mae) and Riky Garcia (Lloyd) in Cal Rep’s Mud

California Repertory at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) begins its Fall season on the theme of survival with avant-garde playwright María Irene Fornés’ Mud. Set in an unspecified place and time in rural America, Mud portrays three sympathetic souls co-dependently living together as one tries to rise above their squalid conditions. Solidly directed by BJ Dodge, excellent acting engrosses us in this strange yet moving story of the human condition.

The play opens with Mae (Kimberly English) ironing and Lloyd (Riky Garcia) lounging on a bench in the main room of their shared home. We see from Mae’s slight disheveled appearance and Lloyd’s dirty clothes that they are scraping by. We also realize Lloyd is a bit slow and Mae is overworked and anxious, but also values math and reading. There is an unresolved tension between them that threatens to turn violent but somehow doesn’t, diffused by Lloyd’s apparent sexual impotency and slowness.

English believably and steadily embodies her character– we know, respect and admire Mae, and feel for her plight. But troubled Lloyd is the one we watch because he is unpredictable, both childlike and animalistic– alternately crawling on the floor or under a blanket, jumping on the table or eating unusually. And Garcia thoroughly immerses himself in that role, humanizing Lloyd so we sympathize with him even when we might be repulsed.

Henry (Aaron Allen) soon enters to help read a pamphlet about Lloyd’s medical condition, which is beyond Mae’s still rudimentary reading ability. But Mae clearly likes Henry, especially talking with him, which makes her feel better about herself. Henry soon moves in, ratcheting up the household tension as Lloyd is displaced from his bed. Regardless, life is looking up for Mae until things take a turn and both men become dependent on her.

The play works metaphorically on many levels, and judging by the number of CSULB students in the audience required to be there, can make for rich classroom fodder, such as on gender imbalance, the nature of intelligence and the stickiness of poverty that makes it hard to break free. But Fornés’s writing itself is interesting– the play is minimal but internally consistent, creating a little bubble of a world where even the starfish and crabs that Mae reads about work as allegories that even Lloyd picks up on, and in which the shocking ending somehow makes sense.

Jeff Janisheski, artistic director of Cal Rep, notes that the play is part of a year-long National Celebrando Fornés, with 20 universities and theater companies performing the playwright’s works since her death last year. Mud fits Cal Rep’s season theme of survival, but also speaks to the nature of humanity. Mae’s struggle as the others tug at her like so much sticky mud would be heroic if it were not so mundane– like so many stories of our everyday.

Mud continues at the Players Theatre in CSULB’s Theatre Arts Building, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., through Sept. 29, with shows Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $18 to $23. For tickets and information, call (562) 985-5526 or visit