Daniel is lonely. He misses the barrio, and a distant 'burb with a goofball name like "Enchanted Acres" is a bleak wasteland in comparison to the warm feel of the old 'hood. But Daniel is more than lonely: He's in the midst of a mid-life crisis with cultural overtones. Tired of his best friends, and wondering who he is, what his twin cultures mean to him, and why his son takes too little interest in his heritage, Daniel might be the hero of a tragedy or a soap opera. Instead, he lights up the complex comedy of Rudolfo Anaya's Ay, Compadre.

Anaya weaves a lot of issues into his kitchen-sink humor. The conflict between the old machismo and the new feminist awareness, the age-old battle of the sexes, the problem of identity and the threat of homogenization, age versus youth, sexual prowess and sexual dysfunction, marriage, friendship, the "shock of the new," all thread their way into the cloth of the story. It's a lot to take on, and since half of it is in Spanish (a language I don't speak), I'm not certain how much is clearly articulated. Still, there is no dearth of ideas, and what is quite clear is that novelist/playwright Anaya has plenty to say about contemporary Hispanic life.

Su Teatro's production of the bilingual Compadre has some strong moments, some hilarious physical comedy and some insights about middle age that transcend all cultural barriers. But the comic timing is uneven, and the night I saw it, the cast seemed to be ill-rehearsed, so that several times they struggled for their lines or lost inspiration when it was most needed. As the production wears on, the cast no doubt will master these difficulties, because the talent is there.

Speaking of talent and culture, Terry Dodd's production of A.R. Gurney's The Dining Room is a splendid piece of Americana, a patchwork quilt of changing American values and personalities pieced together in a complex pattern. Eight actors play a boggling variety of roles, changing characters at warp speed and investing nearly all of them with superhuman energy. It wears you out watching them.

But the exercise is worth it. Story after story unfolds as the ebb and flow of life swirls through a vanishing bit of American culture--the formal dining room. One family brackets the whole proceedings, but many unrelated clans move through the dining room, which becomes a metaphor for the culture at large and the shifting stage for households alike in their WASP ways.

An old man berates his grandson about asking for money for boarding school. An architect tells a prospective client--a psychiatrist--why his memory of family dinners in just such a dining room is a nightmare. An aging dowager lets her nephew take pictures of her china and silver, only to learn that his anthropology project involves documenting the eating customs of a vanishing race: the upper class. Little children have a birthday party as their adulterous parents spark and sputter distractedly. A little boy tries to persuade a beloved Irish maid to stay. A sick old man gives his oldest son directions for his impending funeral. And so on and on.

We see people of all ages and a huge variety of troubles and proclivities--and they fit together. The Dining Room is not a profound play, but it does capture a certain texture, a feeling for change and a few minor truths about society. Gurney's tone is kindly, though skeptical; one leaves with a sense that the culture has been both skewered and understood.

Dodd keeps the comedy brisk and smooth--each story flows easily into the next. The acting is generally superb, though not everyone is equally skilled at playing age and youth. But in the end, the ensemble makes us feel we are all in this thing together.

Ay, Compadre, through April 30 at Su Teatro, 4725 High Street, 296-0219. The Dining Room, through May 8 at the Aurora Fox Arts Center, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, 361-2910.


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