Theater Review: Jim Kierstead’s ‘Borrowed’ at House of Games

Two men with concordant psychosexual needs find a way to connect Borrowedthe debut drama from Broadway producer-turned-playwright Jim Kierstead.

After previous iterations like a 2020 pandemic Zoom readout and a film that debuted at the Miami Film Festival in March 2022, Borrowed now gets its world premiere on stage in the House of Games space at Miami Ironside. You can find the sprawling complex of shops, restaurants, and offices at 7610 NE Fourth Ct. in Miami, not far from Biscayne Boulevard and NE 79th Street. If you get hungry before or after the show, grab a bite to eat at the inviting indoor-outdoor Ironside Pizza restaurant.

Produced by William Fernandez, Deborah Ramirez and Kierstead of The Broadway Factor – the team that, along with the late George Cabrera, was behind Miami’s long theatrical experiment AmparoBorrowed is a deliberately disturbing thriller.

The list of content warnings you will find in the digital program has ten items and includes violence, kidnapping and four types of abuse (physical, verbal, sexual and mental). You have been warned.

You’re also told that once the piece begins, don’t leave the intimately immersive performance space – if you do, you can’t return. Makes sense, because anyone rushing to use the bathroom or anything that would disrupt the show. since the actors use almost every inch of the converted event space. But better forget that, otherwise you might start to feel like the younger of the two characters – trapped in a no-win situation.

To be fair to future audiences, some of the plot points of the 90-minute play need to be revealed in the moment. What is or isn’t a spoiler can be debated, but we’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible.

Borrowed takes place in 2010 in a small, not very chic cottage in New Jersey near the Hudson River. Though the location is modest and secluded, it offers amateur painter David (Caleb Scott) a bonus: a multimillion-dollar view of the water and Manhattan skyline.

An army veteran, David is a wounded man. A thicket of red scars on his face cause the “hooks” to recede. A brace helps with a grenade-ruined knee. Hateful squalor disguised as machismo, trigger-banging and hurling epithets are all part of David’s arsenal when things are so south – which they do, almost instantly – once his young visitor shows up.

Justin (Ernesto Reyes), a handsome Latino who often seeks out older men for sex, shows up late, then glances at David and nervously begins making excuses for having to leave for a party in town. But David, primed by his seductive text exchanges with Justin, wants what the young man has promised to deliver. After trying to persuade, David makes a decision: he locks the door and refuses to let Justin go.

What happens during a long night and a long morning is a mixture of fear, intimidation, violence and revelation. The balance between director Melissa Almaguer, assistant director Natalie Cabo, and the cast is tricky.

Click to enlarge

Ernesto Reyes’ Justin (left) and Caleb Scott’s David have an intense encounter at the world premiere of Borrowed.

Photo by Melissa Almaguer

Audiences should feel the tension between the demanding David and the panicked Justin, but they should also surrender to the storytelling and attempts to connect as the men share sweeter moments or talk about their stories – Justin is a teenager whose Attachment to Older People The guys started with a teacher and friend’s father, David as a married man who hid his sexual orientation and fathered a deeply troubled son.

Although David insists that he simply “borrowed” Justin for a while, this is semantic manipulation. Justin knows he’s being held prisoner, so in times when he’s nice or charming, survival underpins his actions.

Borrowed is a two-player game, and it all comes down to performance. In this world first, this balance (much like the ebb and flow of tension) is unstable.

Scott is by far the most experienced and technically skilled actor. His David is scary and intimidating, whether he belittles Justin by bellowing homophobic epithets or demonstrating his battle-hardened physical dominance. Do we feel the character? Maybe, a little, by the end of the play. But Scott’s portrayal of a haunted, troubled man is so effective that you may find yourself backing up in your seat every time he gets close to you.

As a young man whose inattentive father helped shape his desire to please, Reyes is scared, pleasant, and sometimes miserable. Most of the time, his Justin is alert, except when he makes an ill-fated attempt to escape. A more scheming and manipulative Justin would even help the cat-and-mouse game between the two.

Set/prop designer Jennifer Ivy, lighting designer Tony Galaska, sound designer Ernesto K. Gonzalez, fight choreographer Lee Soroko, and director of intimacy Nicole Perry all helped craft a production that can feel claustrophobic in the face of to his danger. It’s jarring (Gonzalez provides a tinny sound effect to accentuate the scariest moments), and it’s provocatively scary (like when David “disciplines” Justin). There are laughs in Borrowedbut they’re rare, as you’d expect from a play that digs into the psyches of two men.

The screenplay is more the work of a craftsman than a writer with a distinctive voice, though Kierstead’s master’s degree in psychology informs this facet of his storytelling.

Borrowed is a small-scale play that could be easily produced by any company looking for intense, shocking drama. Since the producers are aiming for an off-Broadway production, a rewrite that makes Justin a more wary character and a stronger adversary could increase the play’s impact.

– Christine Dolen, ArtburstMiami.com

Borrowed. Through July 17, at House of Games at Miami Ironside, 7610 NE Fourth Ct., Miami; 786-383-2755; borrowed fromtheplay.com. Tickets are $50. Thursday to Saturday 8 p.m. and Sunday 3 p.m.

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