Gentrifying decayed urban areas is fraught with peril! Not only must you deal with the stench of the sidewalks and a sometimes unwelcoming and threatening live population, but there may be an occasional unfriendly ghost to make matters worse.
Bennett Fisher’s Campo Maldito has returned to San Francisco having established audiences in San Diego and New York City as well. Fisher crafts a two hander that is a compact, eventful, dark comedy replete with suspense and amusement. It is clever and clear structurally, but as with many performances with mystical aspects, you may miss a little at the granular level. But not to worry. All will be illuminated.
The central character, Ken Ingersol, is an idealistic, young techie, who has started a business in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District to provide microloans to local residences, expecting to lift all boats through his altruistic undertaking. His office is in one of those apartment buildings that has been cleared of long standing residents to hoist the rent to the deep-pocketed new wave. Problem is that his business relies on scaling up his computer program to accommodate growth. However, his program keeps crashing. What’s more, all manner of random accidents has beset his enterprise and the people associated with it. What has he done to deserve this? Could it be that his ilk are not wanted here?
A friend tells Ken about a santero, a shaman-like priest from a Caribbean-originated religious cult who can purify the space and rid it of the spirits of the dead. Enter Hieronymo Acosta. Sight unseen, Ken agrees to buy his services for $900. But uninvited, Hiero slips into the shabby office at 5 a.m. one day as Ken is sleeping, draped over a bean bag chair. It turns out that while Hiero has the credentials for the job at hand, we later find that he also brings some baggage associated with the building.
Luis Vega is Hiero, and he nails the part. Vega is confident and aloof as his character imposes his will on the diffident Ken. Vega aptly blends a mystic sensibility with a groundedness suggested by Hiero’s wearing a 49ers football jersey. Though he is not a large man, Vega is forceful as Hiero, and his scowl could intimidate just about anyone.
Walker Hare is Ken. Although he is the much larger man, he quakes and quivers in the presence of the santero. But Hare is not only highly convincing as the geeky, put-upon entrepreneur. He executes a terrific personality shift when he is transformed into the spirit of the vengeful Emilia, the deceased girlfriend of Hiero, who lived in the building and who had abandoned her almost a year before (how’s that for baggage?!). So, while Vega displays considerable within-character depth, Hare does within and between-characters.
Jesca Prudencio’s brisk direction keeps the audience on the edge of uncertainty throughout as the players lurch toward disaster. Will our characters see the next dawn? Will they see the sun rise over the brick and stone canyons of the Tenderloin? You will only know if take the trip.
Campo Maldito by Bennett Fisher is produced by People of Interest Theatre and plays at Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco through August 13.