by Amy Lee Pearsall · August 20, 2014
It seems like you can hardly throw a rock these days without hitting a tech company, and tales of California start-ups going boom to bust are nothing new. But sprinkle in the dynamics of a gentrifying San Francisco neighborhood and add a hearty spoonful of poltergeist activity, and you’ll find yourself in the realm of People of Interest’s production of Campo Maldito, now showing at Teatro SEA at the Clemente as part of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.
CEO Ken Ingersoll (Walker Hare) is at the end of his rope. His microloan start-up – strategically placed in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District – has hit one snag after another. The employees have stopped coming in, and he’s taken to drinking more than a little bit of scotch. At the suggestion of his landlord after a series of unsettling, otherwise unexplainable occurrences around the office, Ken hires Hieronymo Acosta (Luis Vega), a Santeria priest, to purify the office. What Ken doesn’t know is that Hieronymo and his office space have a history, and the vindictive spirit at play has an agenda.
Playwright Bennett Fisher has penned a thought-provoking black comedy with racial and socio-economic tensions bubbling just under the surface, and the well-paired actors make the most of this delightful, incendiary cocktail. As directed by Jesca Prudencio in this tight, one-hour long production, Hare and Vega deftly maneuver through rites of ritual, vendetta, self-medication, and flying desks, with scarcely a sour note between them.
Scenic Designer Lily Bartenstein nails the environment of this start-up with its yellow bean bag chair, bin storage, open desk plan, requisite coffee pot, and scattered desktop action figures. Janet O'Neill’s costumes are spot-on, particularly with Hieronymo’s fanny pack and 49ers jersey (he may be a santero, but he’s still a fan). Lighting Designer Bo Tindell and Sound Designer Chad Goss effectively work in tandem to create moments of dimensional jumps and demonic possession. (Indeed, I may never hear the voice of Siri the same way again.)
While I am no santera, I know that nervous laughter, the occasional jump, and audible gasps are often the barometers of an audience fully invested in a theatrical piece. Campo Maldito had that in spades during its opening performance at this year’s FringeNYC. If you’re looking to be entertained in the moment and haunted for days afterward, it’s a production well worth checking out.