¨Valor, Agravio y Mujer:¨ A Play by a Woman, Curated by Women, at the Repertorio Español

¨Valor, Agravio y Mujer: escrita por una dramaturga del siglo de oro español. Dirigida y diseñada por Mujeres de Hoy.¨

The quote above appears on the playbill of the play,  translated as ¨Courage, Betrayal  and a Woman,¨ which is currently showing at the Repertorio Español in New York City. The rest of the quote in English reads: ¨written by a woman playwright of the Spanish Golden Age–directed and designed by women of today.¨

Repertorio Español (RE) added this production of the cape and sword comedy by Ana Caro Mallén de Soto, which was published sometime in the 17th century in Spain, to its repertoire in October 2017.  RE´s production is directed by Leyma López. On April 21, 2018, I attended, and I highly recommend this polished and engaging production to all who can get to the RE to see it.

Valor.Michael Palma Mir

Zulema Clares and Luis Carlos de la Lombana. Photo by Michael Palma Mir. 

 

This was not my first time at the Repertorio Español, but I had not been in several years. Upon entering, I was greeted warmly at the box office and welcomed by the usher, into the familiar lobby. This was my first experience with the subtitles on the seats. In 2012 RE installed the Simultex In Seat Captioning System (similar to that at the Metropolitan Opera) and this makes their productions, which are performed in Spanish, super-accessible to non-Spanish speakers, and without distracting titles projected on a screen above the stage, as is done in some other theaters. Although I never used the previous system of bulky headphones to hear a simultaneous translation in English, I commend RE´s dedication in promoting theater in Spanish to diverse audiences. Now even deaf people can enjoy the shows in either Spanish or English, by reading the titles.

Honestly, I cannot wait to go back and see Valor, agravio y mujer again. Spanish Golden Age theater is usually written in verse, and this play in particular, is not that easy to visualize with just one read, due to the poetry and the somewhat archaic language. However, the ensemble in this production enthusiastically lifted this text off the page and brought it to breathing and pulsing life!

The interpretation is performed in rich, sumptuous looking period costumes on a virtually empty set, both designed by Leni Méndez. The only adornment to the stage are tall thin movable poles and a platform reached by stairs in the front and on each side. The actors use these structures to situate the action, which is sometimes indoors, on a ship or outside. The light design by Lucrecia Briceño, works in tandem with the set, costumes and sound (by Zulema Clares) to firmly support and elucidate the drama. Nothing else was needed to supplement the superb acting, which completely drew me into this 17th century world.

Zulema Clares stars as the strong, smart and courageous Leonor, who dresses as a man to avenge her honor by hunting down her untrustworthy suitor, Don Juan. She was convincing as both Leonor and Leonardo, with different expression and body movement for each. Don Juan is deftly rendered by Luis Carlos de la Lambona–who at times is confident and cocky and at others, remorseful and contrite.

The play begins with Leonor dressing in men´s clothes. She is aided by her manservant/squire, Ribete. Erick González adds zing to this fun sidekick with captivating movement and gesture. Gerardo Gudiño was Don Fernando Rivera, a clearly delineated and pivotal role as Leonor´s brother. Soraya Padrao (Estela), Maria Cotto (Lisarda), Sendor Juan (Tomillo), Rafa Sánchez (Príncipe Ludovico) and Gonzalo Trigueros (various roles), rounded out the talented and well rehearsed cast.

Unique moments that added humor, drama or delight to the staging, included the lights, mists, poles and movement to portray the voyage by sea, the baroque music, and the use of a male actor (Trigueros) to interpret a female servant.

The plot and message of Valor, agravio y mujer, are universal: a woman wants to confront a man who has taken advantage of her/lied and everyone can relate to this. In the 17th century, when this comedy was written, in real life women rarely would be able to do this–confront him. Sometimes brothers or other family members would take matters into their own hands to avenge her honor and right this wrong with a duel. Ana Caro was definitely ahead of her time, thrusting the female protagonist into the role of avenger and empowering her to determine her own fate. The stellar acting and solid direction make the verse easy to understand and the subtitles, if needed, further facilitate audience engagement. Those who like classical theater, like Shakespeare, will find Valor, agravio y mujer particularly appealing. I hope that you will sample this play, written by a woman about 400 years ago, and staged by women today at the Repertorio Español. I know I will return to see it again!

Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, no intermission.

Valor, Agravio y Mujer is currently in repertory, and plays through August 24, 2018 at the Repertorio Español–138 East 27th Street, New York, NY 10016. For more information and tickets, contact the box office at 212.225.9999 or purchase online.

Bienvenidos Blancos: Confronting Myths and Stereotypes about Cuba

April 19, 2018 marks a historical event in Cuba, even if few are paying attention. After nearly 60 years of rule by either Fidel Castro, “El Comandante,” or his brother Raúl Castro, Cuba finally has a new President, Miguel Diaz-Canel. He was not elected by the people, and the international news professes that there will be little change in the country. However, only time will tell what might happen to governance and daily life in the tenacious and turbulent island nation.

The day after, I had the pleasure of attending Bienvenidos Blancos, by Alex Torra, at the FringeArts in Philadephia. Bienvenidos Blancos,  or “Welcome White People,” is a provocative title of this new work, by Alex Torra and the Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, with support by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Alex Torra also directed the piece, assisted by Cheryl Zaldívar Jiménez, which was developed in collaboration with the acting ensemble at Teatro Ludi, Swarthmore Project in Theater, Swarthmore College, Taller Puertorriqueño and FringeArts.

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Bienvenidos Blancos is a bilingual production (Spanish/English) and the cast includes Americans and Cubans: Jorge Enrique Caballero Elizarde, Benjamin Camp, Lori Felipe Barkin, Idalmis Garcia Rodriguez, and Jenna Horton. Timbalona, a percussion duo comprised of Andrés Cisneros and Christian Noguera, provided pre-show music. The show is arranged in four chapters and at the end Torra comes out and addresses the audience directly. He speaks about his Cuban heritage and its inspiration for the play. His parents immigrated from Cuba and he is trying to hold on to the culture in his own life and identity.  Paloma Irizarry handled the supertitles, which worked perfectly on Friday, April 20. Since much of the audience is non-Spanish-speaking, the English titles projected on a small screen above the action are important, but not intrusive.

Bienvenidos Blancos is humorous and parodies stereotypes and misconceptions that predominate about Cuba and its people (and Americans too!) . The approach is experimental, lacking a linear narrative. It organically weaves dialogue, music, dance and Afro-Cuban folklore and religion to create a collage of vignettes.

The action on stage is entertaining and usually funny but it does take some time to digest the messages that the actors are attempting to convey. Torra´s Cuba is neither the Cuba of those born and raised on the island before the Revolution or after. Nor is it that imagined by the ´blancos´ or monolingual tourists who mostly visit to enjoy the beaches and experience what they imagine is the vibrant Cuban culture–like a tropical show with dancing girls with big headdresses and maracas. It is a mix of what is passed down through generations, filtered through the lens of Cubans who left the island due to the Revolution, as well as  the input of contemporary Cuban actors (who live in today´s post-1959 Cuba) involved in the show. It  is influenced by Torra´s perceptions as a Cuban-American living in the United States. Depending on where such immigrants live in the USA, the experience could be one that celebrates the culture of the ´old country,´ replete with nostalgia, or it might be quite xenophobic and discriminatory, or a blend of both.

Costumes by Fabian Fidel Aguilar, and set by Efren Delgadillo, Jr., are simple but they invoke Cuba. The arches over the doors to the wings, remind me of those that I have seen in Havana, and the military, historical and tropical show costumes also situate the interactions. The stark uncluttered set (except for a desk, chairs, Che Guevara poster, and a few other items) has a familiar ´empty´ and utilitarian feel, typical of interior design in Cuba and in some of the former nations of the USSR that I have visited.

The ensemble of actors is tight and works well together. The comedic timing, especially by Cuban actors, Caballero Elizarde and Garcia Rodriguez, is spot on. I was impressed by their acting–both smoothly transitioned through multiple characters. Particularly strong and engaging is the entire cast´s interpretation of Cuban history and the tropical show scene.

Bienvenidos Blancos is overall a thought-provoking and engaging evening. It is a must-see for those interested in or familiar with Cuba, and also those who enjoy experimental theater. Please note, that there is no intermission and the play runs for 90 minutes.

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

Bienvenidos Blancos plays through April 28, 2018 at Fringearts: 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets please contact the box office at 215-413-9006 or purchase online.

 

 

 

Alfredo Rodríguez: A Little Piece of Cuba in Philadelphia

Alfredo Rodríguez, jazz pianist, was born in Havana, Cuba and his music explodes with Cuban passion, and is infused with its influences. In a video for “Havana Culture,” he says: “El cubano lleva la música adentro y la música está en todos lados.” (Cubans have music within them and music is all over).  He began his studies at the Manuel Saumell music school for students between 7-10 years. Eventually, he caught the “ear” of Quincy Jones and left Cuba in 2009 to make a career in the United States.

The Annenberg Center Live presents a Cuba Festival this Spring in Philadelphia. On April 5, 2018, The Alfredo Rodríguez Trio, composed of piano, drums and bass guitar, improvised on familiar Cuban melodies, such as Guantanamera, and original pieces, such as Bloom. Other songs included: Thriller, Bésame mucho, Yemayá, and Ay Mama Inés. 

The origins of jazz include improvisation and the making of music in the moment. The musicians do not use scores and each performance will be different. They work together to invent new ways of playing and making variations on a melody, and not on preparing a written score to present as “the composer” intended.  In addition to rousing variations and solos by all three instrumentalists, they encouraged audience participation in singing a repeating 10 pitch melody on a syllable, and the chorus of Guantanamera. It was fun to sing and it reinforced the act of music making as a collaborative improvisational event. As an audience member I wasn’t just sitting and listening passively, but creating with them.

Alfredo Rodriguez. Annenberg

I was most impressed by Rodriguez’ solo piano composition, Bloom. Most of the other pieces were loud in dynamics, very percussive and rhythmic. In contrast, this lovely soothing melody ethereally emanated from Rodríguez. Here is a version on an electric piano:

Without any sort of backdrop or screen with images on it, I was transported by the music of The Alberto Rodriguez Trio. In Yemayá, I imagined the goddess in her blue, floating on the sea, to the trills in the piano, and suddenly louder more marked chords, perhaps signal the entrance of Changó. Thriller invoked Michael Jackson and his monsters in a playful way, while Bésame mucho and Ay, Mama Inés, were an opportunity to combine latin sounds and rhythm with jazz for a cool performance.

It was easy to imagine the couples dancing to Ay Mama Inés. Fittingly, the trio ended the 100 minute concert with Guantanamera. Guantanamera,  no matter how it is played, is a hymn to Cuba and all things Cuban. It always reminds me of José Martí as well as the island, strength and simplicity, and the Cuban people. The enthusiastic audience applauded with a standing ovation.  

For more information about Alberto Rodríguez, see his website or Facebook page.  Visit AnnenbergCenter.org for a list of upcoming events this season.

Tarsila! Discovering the “Mother of Brazilian Art” at the MOMA in New York City.

A few children, from 7 to 9 years old, obviously part of a class, sat on the floor in front of the painting, “Composition (Lonely Figure),” by the great Brazilian artist, Tarsila do Amaral. Their teacher gave them instructions about what to draw and write in their notebooks. What a lovely sight to see these children having an art class at MOMA! (Museum of Modern Art, NYC).

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Students of all ages, senior citizens, young adults, Brazilians, Americans, and tourists from many different countries packed the galleries. The work of the “Tarsila” had finally arrived at MOMA in New York.

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I saw some of her paintings in São Paulo in 2014. I really liked the museums in São Paulo, MASP and the Pinotecas. (You can read about some other impressions on Brazilian art that I saw in São Paulo on deslumbrar). MOMA and the Chicago Art Institute collaborated on this initiative.

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What I liked most about this exhibition was seeing Tarsila’s originals close up, and also reliving memories of Brazil. Each of her paintings invokes Brazilian culture and triggers saudade. And that’s really what she wanted. When she was living abroad, she began to identify more as a Brazilian and she wrote:

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One thing that I just don’t understand, and I don’t agree with, is the “English Only” of some museums. This is not only an issue I have with MOMA, since I have also experienced this at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For this Tarsila exhibition, all of the labels and the audio guide were written in English. Of course, the audience for the exhibit is comprised of Americans from the United States, but in my opinion, it should have been bilingual, in Portuguese and English. There are some things that are difficult to translate, and would be helpful to have an explanation in Portuguese (or the language of the artist). In addition, in the audio guide there was an error in the pronunciation of “Sono”. Instead of saying “sono” the voice said “sonho,” which means “dream” in English. This completely confuses the meaning of Tarsila’s “O sono” (Sleep). Another advantage of a bilingual show is that it is accessible to more people. A bilingual exhibition of Tarsila’s work, which is important for Brazil and the rest of the Portuguese speaking countries, would have reached out as a “welcome” to Portuguese speaking people.

That, however, is a minor criticism. The exhibition is worth seeing, even in English. I adored looking at all of her pieces displayed, from the unknown sketches in graphite and ink on paper, to the huge canvasses in oil, for which Tarsila is most famous.

This is not an “objective” analysis or a pseudo-academic text. MOMA has already published the coffee table book and everyone can purchase that in the museum bookstore. You can also check out the interview with Caetano Veloso on youtube.com that MOMA presented, or do a Google search of all the criticism of the show by the famous art history experts. I prefer to offer a few observations and reactions to my favorite works.

First, as an artist, I really admire that Tarsila signed her pieces with only her first name. There’s this idea among artists in the United States, that if you are a “serious” artist, you need to sign with your last name. Tarsila proves this WRONG.

Tarsila painted Brazilian subjects, and she started, along with her husband, Oswald de Andrade, and other artists of different types (Mário de Andrade, Anita Malfatti, etc.) the Cannibalism Movement, Movimento Antropófago, and Modernism in São Paulo. Tarsila traveled to Paris in order to continue her art studies, and also around Brazil. In Brazil, Tarsila was inspired by various native subjects. She painted animals, landscapes, cityscapes, human figures, almost human figures, and nature. Overall, she used a non-realistic approach that encompassed surrealism, cubism, futurism and everything else that was going on at the time.

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Born in 1886, on a plantation in São Paulo, she captures nature in a raw fashion. Cartão postal, (PostCard) has the same elements that you find in typical postcards of Brazil: palm trees, other tropical trees, animals, houses, fruit, water and hills. It is interesting that she mixes semi-tropical, desert plants with the water (river/sea). It’s as if this post card isn’t just to represent the popular tropical panorama, but also that of Brazil’s rugged and barren interior, o sertão.

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“O sono” (Sleep) sticks in my head because of its surrealism mixed with the Brazilian landscape—the simple and essential palm tree.

The last work that one sees before leaving the gallery, is Operários from 1933. This is a representation of different phenotypes of Brazilians and urban factories.

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The exhibition of Tarsila do Amaral’s work is at the MOMA in New York City, through June 3, 2018. For more information: https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3871