“Good Cuban Girls: A Heartwarming World Premiere

The relationship between mother and daughter is a common theme in theatre. “Good Cuban Girls” by Iraisa Ann Reilly, poignantly explores it in this world premiere directed by José Avilés.

“Good Cuban Girls” plays at the Bob and Selma Horan Studio Theatre at the Hamilton Family Arts Center and was produced by Teatro del Sol, currently in residence at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia, PA.

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The performance last night, October 10, 2019, appeared to be sold out. That in itself says a lot since it was a Thursday evening. Midweek shows don’t sell as well as the weekend. Audience members were graciously offered a free beverage before the show, which was a nice touch.

Having seen several productions by Teatro del Sol and La Fábrica, it is wonderfully evident that the extra support provided by the Arden for “Good Cuban Girls” has helped to create a professional show with high production values and outstanding characterizations.

The set design by Justin Romeo is nothing short of beautiful, in its detail and efficiency. This is identifiably a middle class home on the United States with Cuban-American touches, such as a small altar to the saints on a end table. Moveable extensions delineate Marisol’s bedroom and the park by the river.

Sound design by director José Avilés employs Cuban and Cuban-American music, including familiar tunes by Celia Cruz and Gloria Esteban. In addition, water sounds, telenovela audio in Spanish and other noises add depth to the mood and support the action on stage. Costumes by Tanaquil Marquez and light design by Amanda Jensen, add to the realism.

As the lead role, Marisol, Lorenza Bernasconi communicates a wide range of emotions and is totally convincing. Her Spanish and unaccented English are perfect since Marisol grew up in the United States speaking Spanish at home with her grandmother and sometimes with her mother. She used English outside the home in school and with “gringo” friends.

Yajaira Paredes shines as la Abuela. She expertly conveys an elderly woman who doesn’t have much time left. Changes in gait and posture complete the transformation. To top it off, she has a lot of the funny lines in the play. The ensemble is rounded out with veteran actor Melissa Sabater as Caridad, Marisol’s mother, and Frank Nardi Jr. as Todd, Marisol’s boyfriend.

I found the direction by Avilés to be exceptional. Act I is intense and I could feel the tension in the home and the stress and confusion of the characters. Movements, glances and gestures were varied, with some large and dynamic, while others were more nuanced, enhanced by exquisite timing.

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Overall, this is a polished rendering of the world premiere of “Good Cuban Girls.” I highly recommend it to Spanish speakers and learners for its humor, drama and superb acting.

Running time: Approximately two hours including a 10 minute intermission.

There are a few more show this weekend. Call the Arden Box office at 215-922-1122 or visit their website for tickets and more information: teatrodelsol.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bilingual Comedy Well-Received in Philadelphia!

¿Qué te hace reir? (What makes you laugh?) ¡La Gringa!

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Teatro del Sol took down its sets on Sunday May 5, 2019 after 3 weeks of performances of La Gringa by Carmen Rivera. Several of my students (intermediate Spanish speakers) attended the show during its run at the Latvian Society in Philadelphia, and when asked the question what makes them laugh, they spontaneously replied “that play, La Gringa.” Others, who were second generation immigrants from non-hispanic countries, related to the main character and her struggles to fit into the United States and the culture of her parents and relatives. They too felt as if they belonged nowhere. Others simply were moved by the story and cried when Tío Manolo passed.

The immediacy of these reactions speak to the acting ability of Teatro del Sol’s ensemble, the universality of the script and the accessibility of a bilingual Spanish/English production. If La Gringa had been presented only in Spanish without some kind of simultaneous translation (such as titles on a screen), my students probably would not have understood much of it. Moreover, even if one does understand the language well, the cultural references and jokes are often lost on those not intimately familiar with the culture. If performed in Engilsh, it would be more accessible to a non-Spanish speaking audience, but the language puns and the jibes or references to Maria’s poor Spanish would not have been easy to render. IMG_0619

La Gringa was a low budget endeavor but this new company on the Philly theatre scene, made the most of what they had and then some. (Direction was by José Avilés, stage management, Tanaquil Márquez and lighting by Dalton Whiting).  For example, the sound design by Eliana Fabiyi, reproduced the chirps of the “coqui” (native to Puerto Rico), which are central to the play and its symbolism. The lighting as decoration for the holiday season, set the stage for Manolo’s burst of wellness, and subsequent over the top antics.  Props were few, but the rosary for her grandmother’s headstone, a jacket with the Puerto Rican flag on the back, luggage, Manolo’s wheelchair and a yucca root, were all significant to the plot, and provided just enough visual effect to stimulate my imagination.

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The minimal set on two planes, separated by a few steps, created a feeling of depth and distance that facilitated scenery changes, whether in the house, on a farm or in the Yunque forest.

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Each audience member’s image of the location was unique, especially if they had never visited Puerto Rico. But perhaps that is part of La Gringa’s strength. Since each of us had to recreate the set in our minds, the characters and the actions were more personalized,  and deeply felt and experienced.

The ensemble cast worked well together and the pace was steady and appropriately quick. As Tío Manolo, Víctor Rodríguez Jr. was hysterical. He and Iris, played by Diana Rodriguez, inspired the most laughter. As Maria’s aunt Norma, Yajaira Paredes, was somber and serious in contrast. Her husband, Victor, played by José Avilés, was an all around good guy, buffering his wife’s abrasive personality from other members of the family.  As Maria, Marisol Custodio is a wide eyed idealist. Her naivete was palpaple and naturally expressed. The character of Monchi, played by Daniel Melo, was a breath of fresh air. Monchi is an engineer turned farmer, and it was encouraging to see a college educated male in the play, instead of the stereotypical latino characters (janitors, gangsters or struggling immigrants) that still predominate in film and television.

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This compelling family dynamic and the identity issues faced by Maria, made for a heartfelt and fun theatrical experience on Saturday afternoon, May 4, 2019. Not surprisingly, at the end of La Gringa,  the audience stood up and applauded enthusiastically.

Teatro del Sol has big plans for the rest of the year! To keep abreast of their future productions and initiatives, please visit their website:  http://www.teatrodelsol.org/

 

“La Gringa:” What Does it Mean to Be Puerto Rican?

Teatro del Sol at the Latvian Society, presents its first full production with “La Gringa” by Carmen Rivera. This 2 act play, directed by José Aviles, promises an endearing and uplifiting bilingual theatrical experience.

The play takes place in Puerto Rico and focuses on María, a 22 year old Puerto Rican, born in New York. “Nuyorican” was used in the 20th century to describe such a person, but it is never used in this play. María sort of speaks Spanish, which she learned in school (and not from her parents), and is excited to bond with her family on the island and explore her heritage. Except for some people on the island, she is a “gringa,” an American. Nevertheless, she is torn and frustrated, since in New York she doesn’t fit in either. There she is too Puerto Rican and considered just as much an outsider. La Gringa chronicles María’s search for her identity in short vignettes which depict family struggles as well as local Puerto Rican culture.

The latinx cast includes actors familiar to the Philly theatre scene: Marisol Custodio (María), Yajaira Paredes (Norma), Victor Rodríguez Jr. (Manolo), and Diana Rodríguez (Iris). José Aviles also plays Victor, in addition to directing and Daniel Melo, a recent graduate of the University of the Arts plays Monchi. Rounding out the production crew are Tanaquil Márquez, Krystal Rosa, Dalton Whiting and Eliana Fabiyi.

I saw one of the previews on April 20, 2019. The show officially opens on Friday April 26. Even though it would be unfair to critique a play in previews, suffice to say that two thirds of the audience stood up and applauded at the end of this work in progress on Saturday afternoon.

The play has one intermission and is approximately 2 hours. Don’t miss this premiere in Philadelphia by Teatro del Sol.

La Gringa by Teatro del Sol plays from April 26 to May 4, 2019 at the Latvian Society, 531 N 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123. Purchase tickets online or at the door. Visit their Facebook page at: Teatro del SolLA GRINGA POSTER FINAL (1)

Teatro del Sol: Bilingual Theater in Philly

I’ve written before about La Fábrica and Teatro del Sol, and the works that they’ve produced, about Picasso, Operación Pedro Pan, and authoritarian regimes (inspired by Venezuela). These newly formed theater companies, both staged plays in Spanish and English in Philadelphia for the past few years. The last production I saw of Teatro del Sol was actually a reading of a play and I saw some of the same actors and directors in the audience and on stage  that I had seen at previous productions of La Fábrica.  I didn’t voice this to any of them at the time, but I felt that a merger would be a good idea. Joining forces would pool their creative energy, and they would not have to compete for audiences, talent and donors.

Philadelphia has a lively theater scene, with larger venues like the Walnut Street Theater and the Arden Theatre, and many smaller companies which do not have a permanent space. To be able to garner enough of an audience for theater in Spanish in a city as small as Philadelphia is a challenge enough for one company, but for even more than one?

Fortunately, the minds behind these two companies were thinking like me, and they decided to merge to form Teatro del Sol.  Spearheading this company are José Avilés, Tanaquil Márquez and Yajaira Paredes. For more information about Teatro del Sol, and what they have planned for bilingual theater,  visit their website.

Coming soon, in Abril, is the popular play, La Gringa.  Although it’s been running in New York City, I’ve never seen it. I’m looking forward to enjoying it in Philly in a few weeks.

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Out of the Mouths of Babes: Kid Quixote

Drexel University hosted a unique performance on February 19, 2019 at Van Rensselaer Hall on its campus. “The Traveling Serialized Aventures of Kid Quixote” is performed by immigrant children ranging in age from seven years old to fifteen. The group hails from Brooklyn, New York, and is led and taught by Steven Haff, in the afterschool program, Still Waters in a Storm. Dr. Rogelio Miñana, Head of the Global Studies & Modern Languages Department, was the Drexel connection. Co-sponsors included the College of Arts & Sciences, English & Philosophy, Sociology and History.

Here is a short clip from their performance at Hunter College:

On Tuesday, the students arrived by bus at around noon and first went to City Hall for lunch. Later, they squeezed in a tour of Philadelphia before arriving at Drexel to get ready for their 4:00 pm performance.  The hall, which had chairs on the ground floor and in the balconies, was packed with Drexel students. There is no stage in the space, but a small square of about 10×10 was the playing space. An electronic keyboard, guitar and ukelele accompanied. The Traveling Serialized Aventures of Kid Quixote is a musical (music composed by Kim Sherman) and it is a constant work in progress for five years. The group of 15 children and Haff are 2.5 years into the project. IMG_20190219_174237

The children, who are all bilingual in Spanish and English, have read Don Quixote and their musical play is an interpretation that relates to their own lives and current events. For those that don’t know, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in the early 1600s. It was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. This is a massive volume, and it is first and foremost impressive that children so young are reading it, and that they understand it enough to adapt it into a play.

According to Haff, the performance that they take on the road has been a collaboration. All of the decisions about what goes into the play are discussed with the youngsters and they reach a consensus. There are no auditions for this program. As they work through the script and music, they decide who should play which parts, and parts change periodically.

What makes this work so special is the fresh and natural approach to a very old classic. Don Quixote,  is the quintessential dreamer who just will not give up. The young cast revels in his heroism (actually played by a girl in this version) and is comfortable and at home with their creation.  They go back and forth between English and Spanish and it is obvious how much fun they are having. Their innocence is endearing and their passion, inspiring.  IMG_20190219_171949

Drexel’s venue was bigger than any that the group had performed in before. The audience watched as the group performed a “sound check” to see if their voices would project to the back of the hall. Once everything was deemed to be in order, the adventure began! After the show there was a short talk back and all of the children were enthusiastic to share their thoughts on the play and the process.

For more information, please visit the website: http://www.stillwatersinastorm.org/

“Passport:” A Tour de Force of Beauty and Brutality

Passport, by Venezuelan playwright Gustavo Ott, is shocking. It had me on the edge of my seat for 65 minutes, as I wished that Eugenia could just be understood, and that the cruel soldier and the sadistic official just had an ounce of decency and would just show some compassion. Passport Banner Final (1)

Passport is produced by La Fábrica and plays at the The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake for the FringeArts Festival, from Sept. 12-16, 2018. The cast is comprised of Tanaquil Márquez (Eugenia), Alfonso Rey (El soldado/the soldier)  and Lorenza Bernasconi (la oficial/the official). Passport, directed by Alfonso Rey, is one of the most intense and mesmorizing productions that I have recently seen in Philadelphia.

Despite being a newly formed company (about 1 year old), the production values were high. The program, in the form of a passport, accompanied me on my journey into a world that was both familiar and unknown. The audience is treated as part of the drama, since we had our “passports” stamped as we went into the theater. We all had the proper documentation and were allowed to pass the border, but “Eugenia” was not.

Tanaquil Márquez was stellar and thoroughly convincing as Eugenia. Her acting is gripping and her delivery in Spanish, idiomatic and well projected. This is a challenging role. There is upper body nudity and the character displays many emotions. Based on this performance, Márquez deserves to be seen on the important stages of Philadelphia at least. Lorenza Bernasconi and Alfonso Rey were both compelling in their roles, making it a tight ensemble.

The set, lighting and sound were designed by Márquez and Rey and were perfect for the unfolding of this encounter, allowing the acting to be the focus. The set is almost bare but for a few realistic props and furniture, and the lighting is stark and dramatic. Especially effective was the sound design which utilized recorded music and other noises. For example, the drops of water which fell into metal buckets onstage punctuated the soundscape and the action.

To my ears, the lyricism of the script was exquisite and well delivered by the ensemble. The attempts to understand each other were like mind puzzles. I saw the opening performance at 4:00 pm which was in Spanish. (The shows alternate between Spanish and English, and there are some which are “coin toss.” You find out what language it will be in after you arrive). What makes this work so impressive is the clash between the poetry, the beauty of the language, and the violence of the situation, and how these two elements are depicted. For me personally, this has always been the hallmark of a great work of art–that Gustavo Ott was able to take something bad, an ugly dehumanizing experience and make it into this play is sublime.

Passport was written in the 1990s, but problems of migration and crossing borders are still happening. Tyrannical regimes still exist and military and other officials who cross the line between the humane and inhumane, unfortunately permeate the news every day. The mistreatment of people at the border is a current issue in our country.

Passport is a must see for those who embrace more intellectual theater, latino plays, and/or who care about the migration issues. I look forward to seeing it in English too.  Passport could be anywhere or everywhere. La Fábrica draws attention to the problems and abuses with this moving production.

Running time: 65 minutes, no intermission.

Passport plays from September 12-16, 2018, by La Fábrica at The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake.302 S Hicks St. Philadelphia, PA 19102 For more information and to purchase tickets in advance: go  online

New Latino Theater in Philadelphia: A Interview with Tana Márquez of “La Fábrica”

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Photo by Alfonso Rey

Those who read my blog and those who know me personally,  know that I have a passion for theater in Spanish, from the great works of the Spanish Baroque and Golden Age and zarzuela, to contemporary Latin American and Latino plays.  I have had the pleasure of attending Bodas de sangre and also Azul, bilingual productions that were performed in Philadelphia. Tanaquil Márquez was instrumental in both of them (as well as others).  I caught up with Tana and these are her exact words to questions I had about her involvement in bilingual theater in Philadelphia.

Deslumbrar: Tell me about the history of La Fábrica and your role in it. Why was this company created? What productions have you done so far?

– La Fábrica is a very new company, not even a year old yet! After Yajaira and I finished The Duende Cycle, a project I worked on with Eliana Fabiyi for the 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, we formed a great friendship, which shared the love of bilingual theater. From there we worked on a show called Ni tan Divas ni tan Muertas by Indira Páez, which was produced three times around the city. Shortly after we created La Fábrica. Yajaira and I who both work as Artistic Directors and Producing Managers for the company. We felt like there a void that needed to be filled for the growing local Latinx community. There was such a beautiful response from the audience who saw Duende and Divas in their native language (Spanish) that we felt compelled to really establish something here in the city. By producing strong and bold bilingual theatre, we hope to be a vehicle for social communion and positive change in Philadelphia. Our past shows include Azul, which was written and directed by me, exploring Picasso’s blue period through live Flamenco music and dance; and A 2,50 la Cuba Libre, written and directed by Ibrahim Guerra about 5 ficheras working in a bar. Both shows were revived in the winter, with the help of Jose Aviles directing A 2,50 la Cuba Libre in February.

Deslumbrar: La Fábrica has a production in the upcoming Fringe Festival (September 2018) in Philadelphia, called PASSPORT, by Gustavo Ott from Venezuela. Why this play?

-PASSPORT is current, important and poetic, diving into the question of immigration and exposing the mechanics of language and power. It is a very NOW show that we hope will captivate the audience, while raising awareness of our current immigration crisis.

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Photos by Alfonso Rey

 

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Deslumbrar: What future projects do you have in mind for La Fábrica?

-Definitely more Lorca! We want to explore Tanyo Saracho and Stephen Adly Guirgis as well as the theme of immigration. Yajaira and I are also developing a one act on the more comical side called Tu Gringa, Yo Chama. This is definitely a must see. It mixes the American and Venezuelan culture and humor very well, also anytime Yajaira opens her mouth she is hilarious.

Deslumbrar: Are you looking for sponsors, donors, actors, or production staff? How can those interested contact you? 

We are always looking to grow our team! Specifically, for PASSPORT we have teamed up with Free Migration Project, an organization whose mission is to support immigrant communities and to advocate for the right of all decent people to freely migrate. You can donate to support both companies here https://freemigrationproject.org/la-fabrica/. We are also hosting a fundraiser on Thursday, August 16 from 8-11pm at La Fusion Lounge, 1136 S 11th st. It is a Latin Dance-A-Thon, will be a very fun time with amazing prizes!

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For anyone who is interested in what we do and how they can be a part of it please email info@lafabricatheater.com.

La Fábrica is looking for your continuous support, in whichever form you can give, so that bilingual theatre can be a fixture in Philadelphia, allowing Spanish and English voices to speak and Spanish and English ears to hear in a constant communal dialogue.

Electroacoustic Music in Philadelphia: Live/Wire Ensemble & Opera Company

Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company, performing at Temple University, presented an innovative festival of electroacoustic premieres to a packed audience on July 29, 2018. The Festival, which opened on July 26, btought to Pressler Hall at Temple University, a program including,  Radiance  (Jon Paul Maysee), The Sun Gate (Carlos Johns-Dávila) and Pacamambo (Zack Settel). Each of these three works utilized technology in a distinct way. Besides showcasing computer orchestration, amplification and visual projections, these pieces also complemented each other in their inspiration and narratives. (Check Deslumbrar for interviews with the composers last week)

Radiance, which featured bassoonist Dominic Panunto, is based on Christian scripture passages: (Genesis 1:2), (1 Kings 17), (Luke 9:28-36), (Revelation 21:19) and (Exodus 34:35). Lighting effects were generated by the bassoon which were filtered through a computer program. Most of this composition consisted of long sustained notes played by the bassoonist, with corresponding flashes of colored lights in discs and a large space on the ceiling above the musician. For both Radiance and The Sun Gate, performed in the orchestra practice room, the audience was invited to sit on three sides, either on chairs or on the floor. In Radiance, the sole instrumentalist and the visual projection were the center of attention.

In contrast, the audience seemed to become part of the performance of The Sun Gate. There was a lot going on and so much to watch in this piece. The mirrors, projections, and 360 degree camera, bounced images on the walls AND on the people sitting on the floor or in chairs, who surrounded the “stage” where the dancers and musicians performed. Two flexible and engaging dancers, Morgaine A. De Leonardis and Elisa Hernandez, starred as the Incan gods Viracocha and Inti. In addition to the movements they did on the floor, I also found myself watching their shadows on the wall, which intersected with the geometric patterns that were projected. This created another depiction or layer of the story, which had been carefully researched and based on Incan mythology. I interviewed Carlos beforehand, so I was excited to hear and see him play the Quenacho flute that he had purchased in Perú. The flute provided a sense of authenticity to the piece, and I would have liked to have heard more of it. The melody played on the piano near the end recalled Andean tonality and reminded me somewhat of indigenous music I’d heard played on panflutes in the past. This mix of the European and indigenous is key to Carlos’ approach and inspiration. The world created in sound and image (human and geometric) was definitely creative and otherworldly and something I would like to experience again now that I know what to expect. I felt teased by the actual live music included in The Sun Gate and wanted to hear more. The colorful moving geometric patterns, the live dancing and the careful positioning of real roses on the floor were entrancing.  Vishaal Ravikumar (Lighting/Projections Designer) and Sarah Celona (Set Designer) are to be commended for their work on this multifaceted production.  Here is a clip from its New York premiere:

Pacamambo rounded out the trio with another spiritual narrative, this one about death and the afterlife. This comtemporary opera focuses on a young girl Julie (Carly Baron) and how she handles the death of her beloved Grandma “Marie-Marie” (Gillian Booth). Other parts were sung by Max Avery Vitagliano (The Psychiatrist), Andrew Shaw (Le Chien) and Julia Bokunewicz, (La Lune). Isaac Dae Young was the Music Director/Conductor, Carolyn McDemus (Assistant Music Director), and Jon Paul Mayse handled the electronics. Pacamambo utilized computer technology in a more subtle way than the other pieces. It consisted of additional instrumental parts and harmonies. These were programmed by the composer and passed on to the Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company to use in their performance. Since I also sing opera, I try to avoid reviewing operas and singers (conflict of interest) but I must say that the conductor and cast were astounding in their commitment to render this score and their performances were exquisite. Pacamambo was sung in French and they never missed a beat. It was obvious to any musician in the audience, that this was a challenging score  but the cast and conductor handled it with aplomb. The subject as well was quite a departure from traditional Western European grand opera and I was impressed that these young singers held their own in a genre that they probably have not had much experience in (since it is not mainstream) or regularly performed in opera companies or conservatories. The chamber environment suits it well and the audience recognized the dedication and skill of the cast and production crew with a standing ovation.

In my opinion, the score should be revised a bit, cut and pared down, swapping some of the “rap” for a more lyrical accompanied recitative. The “rap” idea was fun at first, since it was different, but the composer definitely could write some harmonies and melodies, and did that well in Act 9. The constant raps tended to slow down the action. The story itself is compelling and although it is a short opera, of only 1 hour, the lack of dramatic tension and release in the music, as well as dynamic and tempi changes, made it drag in some places.  That was not the fault of the singers or the conductor. A revision of course, is a task for the composer, not the singers or conductor, to consider.

All in all, Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company is to be congratulated for taking a risk and staging three relatively new electroacoustic works to an enthusiastic Philadelphia audience. I welcome your comments and discussions about these performances! Please write something if you were there at one of the performances and want to contribute your thoughts. 

For more information on Jon Paul Mayse, please visit: https://jonpaulmayse.com/
To more on Carlos Johns-Dávila: https://www.newperuvian.net/