It all starts with a big bang. Not the astronomical one.
The sexual one.
An attractive middle-aged Spaniard (Carlos Leal) picks up a blonde American (Betty Gilpin) in a bar in Barcelona and invites her back to his apartment. They are already physically entangled as they enter and they proceed, in the dark, to continue their activities on a table, on the floor, and wherever else he can pin her down. Which is not easy to do with his trousers flopping around his ankles.
She, Irene, is demonstrably drunk and she never stops talking throughout the 90 minutes of the play. Her conversation is disjointed and banal, but playwright Bess Wohl has provided her with a hero that is every woman’s dream: a man who listens.
Eventually, he, Manuel, lights a few lamps around the immense room and she is able to focus on the setting. They are in a penthouse apartment with a striking view of the city of Barcelona – the city which, in fact, is the name of the play.
From his floor-to-ceiling wall of windows they look out at the twinkling panorama that includes architect Antoni Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia, one of the most famous, and quirky, churches in the world. This church has been a-building for 134 years and is eternally shrouded in scaffolding – waiting for the next alteration or addition. It is facetiously regarded as the “Monument to Perseverance.”
The never-ending construction of the church is in depressing contrast to the impending fate of Manuel’s building. That skyscraper has been abandoned by all its tenants and is scheduled for demolition when this night is over.
Which explains the presence of all the half-filled packing boxes scattered about the room. And the shifts in his mood as he waits for the wrecking ball.
In addition to that, he is a staunch hater of Americans, the reasons for which are revealed later in the play.
Acknowledging his feelings, she says plaintively, “I hope I didn’t ruin your ambience…”
And so she rattles on, her voice annoyingly shrill and her conversation bouncing from one non sequitur to another, while he alternates polite patience with reactions that are disturbingly menacing.
Eventually she tells him how she happens to be in Barcelona. She and several of her friends are participating in a bachelorette party and she is the bride-to-be. In two weeks she will be marrying Todd, a deacon in the church who “doesn’t tolerate any kind of human fuckups.”
As Manuel sees her wavering in her description of Todd, he gently helps her to sort out her feelings. And she in turn offers him comfort and surprising insight. Which he rewards by telling her, “You’re so much smarter than you seem!”
Director Trip Cullman has handled this obvious clash of personalities with a light and sensitive touch, and in the end you wind up rooting for both of these attractive, troubled, and often funny, characters.
“Barcelona” will be onstage at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 p.m. through March 13. For tickets call (310) 208 5454 or visit www.geffenplayhouse.com.