Typically, like most critics, I try to publish my reviews at least within a week of opening night. However, in the case of “Angel on Eros,” which closed after a three-day IndyFringe Theatre Festival run on Sunday, August 20, it is only now that I am able to share my observations regarding this drama written by Ricardo Meléndez. The delay is due to my own participation in IndyFringe as director and co-producer, with my collaborator Dustin Klein, of Magic Thread Cabaret‘s “Broadway’s Bad Girls,” a revue which sold out three of its four performances. The show’s last performance was August 27. Considering that Meléndez, now a resident of Norfolk, Virginia is a longtime friend and colleague, I felt it imperative that I take this opportunity to commend him on his provocative work which received its Midwest premiere at Fringe to receptive audiences.
Melendez’s play, solidly directed by Steve J. Earle, was presented by Actors’ Workshop of Virginia of which he is the artistic director. Awarded “Outstanding Play” at NYC Fresh Fruit Festival 2023, and Bursary Award winner from the Irish Department of Culture at the International Dublin Gay Theater Festival 2023 in Ireland.
A two-hander, “Angel On Eros,” co-starred Meléndez as Angel, a gay Spanish painter, alongside Brexdyn Ladieu who played Matt, a young, straight, married, sexually confused restaurateur. The play explores a friendship between the two men of differing sexual orientation and offers a view into the transactional nature of human interactions. A dramedy with erotic overtones, the work looks “Inside the business of the arts, and explores themes of human disillusion, self-discovery, and acceptance.” according to a press release.
Angel is 40ish and experiencing a painter’s block. Matt is somewhat naïve and discouraged with the boredom of his ordinary life as he endures an unsatisfying marriage The two men develop a friendship as they yearn for an escape from their doldrum lives. As their friendship deepens, they realize they are physically attracted to one another and eventually engage in a sexual encounter that surprises them both. Featuring the work of Spanish painter Javier Trelis Sempere, whose images used as props in the production, “Angel on Eros” examines male intimacy, art and humanity in general.
Both formal and anecdotal evidence suggests that many young men today eschew labels and are more sexually fluid and experimental than their older counterparts. Also, married straight men experiencing “downlow” affairs with other males is not uncommon in general. Adding an extra layer of interest to Meléndez’s piece were these aspects of contemporary sexual behavior.
As far as the acting, Melendez’s extensive experience was reflected in a strong, nuanced performance whereas Ladieu’s, though sometimes affecting, was the weaker of the two.
It is my hope that award-winning Meléndez, who has written four other plays that include
“Cloak,” “Call Me Boricua, “My Dorian” and “Paper Cranes,” continues to add to his canon and to the conversation within the American Theatre. As a gifted playwright with LGTBQIA2S+ and Latino sensibilities and with his background as a dancer-actor, he has a voice that is distinctive and deserves to be heard.