★In the new effort written by David Cale, a young woman makes a trip to Mexico to search for her best friend who’s mysteriously gone missing. While there, she begins a torrid affair with a mysterious Italian stranger who, it turns out, may be connected to her friend’s disappearance. It’s a tale filled with exotic characters and twisty plot turns, and would have made for a terrific film noir back in the day. Unfortunately, Sandra, now receiving its world premiere at Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theater, is a one-person play. Cale has previously demonstrated a talent for the genre in both his affecting musical theatrical memoir We’re Only Alive for a Short Amount of Time and the comic thriller Harry Clarke, the latter of which offered a dazzling turn by Billy Crudup. But he comes up short in this new piece, which feels overstuffed with plot and lacking in thematic resonance. Despite a game performance by Marjan Neshat (who also recently delivered top-notch turns in the Off-Broadway plays English and Wish You Were Here), Sandra never proves sufficiently arresting. Neshat plays the title role of the recently separated, fortysomething Sandra, who owns a café in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. When her best friend Ethan, a gay composer and pianist, goes missing while on a solo vacation in Puerto Vallarta, the local authorities and the FBI do the bare minimum of investigating. So she impulsively travels there herself like a real-life Nancy Drew, hoping to uncover clues to his whereabouts. Sitting at a local bar, she meets Beauford, an elderly gay man with a Southern accent. He is accompanied by a much younger man with long blonde hair who strangely leaves the minute Beauford goes to the bathroom. Beauford tells her that the younger man, whom he just met, revealed a proclivity for placing handwritten messages in bottles and throwing them into the sea. After several fruitless days wandering the area, Sandra heads home. Perusing some Mexican newspapers she’s brought along for the flight, she discovers a story about bottles containing messages washing ashore. A photograph of one of them reveals handwriting that she immediately recognizes as Ethan’s. And that’s where the story heads south, figuratively as well as literally. It’s such a ridiculous plot development that it’s almost impossible to take the rest of the tale seriously. Sandra immediately heads back to Mexico to search for the man with long blonde hair, and along the way meets the sexy, younger Luca, who has an Italian accent and, as Sandra excitedly tells us repeatedly, a swimmer’s body. They quickly fall into bed together, where he reawakens her sexually after her long, stale marriage. Their romance continues long-distance even after she returns to New York, but she eventually discovers that Luca may not be the innocent college grad student he seems. The storyline later becomes even more baroque, involving multiple homicides, the mob, the feds, and Sandra having to enter the Witness Protection Program. While a talented filmmaker might have been able to compensate for the plot incredulities with atmospheric direction and colorful performances, this solo theatrical version, related to us for 80 minutes by a woman onstage occasionally sitting in a chair, just seems ridiculous. And while it becomes apparent that Cale seems to be striving to explore issues relating to self-identity and personal reinvention, they never emerge clearly. Director Leigh Silverman does what she can to theatricalize the proceedings with moody lighting and evocative music composed by Matthew Dean Marsh (who also collaborated with Cale on We’re Only Alive). But the burden of carrying the evening falls to Neshat, whose performance proves only intermittently effective. The actress movingly mines her character’s emotional depths when simply relating her story. But she’s also forced to imitate the accents of the various other characters, including Italian, Southern, and Australian, none too convincingly. A case could be made that Sandra is an ordinary person, not a trained actress, so it would be untrue for her to be delivering flawless accent work. But that doesn’t make her any easier to listen to. And none of it makes Sandra easy to believe on any level.SANDRA: A MYSTERY TALE, DELIVERED IN STORYTELLING FASHION

Marjan Neshat stars in David Cale’s one-person play about a woman who goes to Mexico in search of her missing friend. In the new effort

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