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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“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.

“Azul”, a new play by Tanaquil Márquez: Getting Under Picasso’s Skin!

Two women, Inez Korff and Liliana Ruiz, in traditional black dresses dance the fiery flamenco. No music is even necessary because their feet beat the rhythm in a precise yet complex zapateo. Later, the guitar and drums, played by Blane and Donna Bostock, join in—their soulful and passionate sounds make a grand match with the dance, to bring out the duende, first theorized by Federico Garcia Lorca, Andalucía’s native son. The flamenco comes from Spain, specifically Andalucía, from the “Roma” people, los gitanos, or more universally known as “the gypsies.” In her new play, Azul, Tanaquil Márquez weaves flamenco dance, movement, Spanish music and multilingual spoken dialogue into a collage of Pablo Picasso’s life before he became famous. Azul, presented by La Fábrica at The Drake Theatre in Philadelphia, is also directed by Márquez, and the score is composed by Blane Bostock.

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Márquez dives into the reason or motivation for Picasso’s “Blue Period,” hence the title, which means blue in Spanish. Azul is a play packed with the love affairs, friendships, and eccentricities of Picasso’s early life. His painting “La Vie” (the life), is the point of departure and also the cohesive element connecting the music, dance and the scenes. Two of the characters, Carles, Picasso’s best friend, and Germaine, a woman they were both involved with and who both tried to kill, are seen as subjects of the painting La Vie” in Azul. Picasso’s blue period is characterized by an emotional despondency, triggered by the death of his best friend. In this phase of his life, his art was seen at the time by collectors as “depressing” and not “sellable” due to the subjects and the limited palette.

Azul is an ambitious and epic work, more than two hours long. It requires much attention from the viewer, since the characters speak Spanish, French and English. There is a poem recited in Catalan by Carles too. Picasso at least translates it into Spanish in the scene.Márquez (in her writing) and the cast handle the languages expertly—they flow naturally and effortlessly. As a fluent speaker of Spanish and English, and a former student of French, following the language shifts was not a problem for me, but I imagine for monolingual English speakers, especially those without much knowledge of Picasso’s life or work, it could be challenging. In that case, Azul would offer a completely different experience.

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Nevertheless there is enough going on with the music, dance and movement to captivate even the monolingual audience member. Particularly strong are the scenes in the second act which incorporate dance, choreographed by Liliana Ruiz: when Picasso visits the woman’s prison and the bullfight/dance with Germaine. Both captured the respective moods and communicated the message without words.

Márquez also directs the extremely talented ensemble of performers. As Picasso, Zach Aguilar, is a very likeable protagonist, perhaps much more than Picasso himself and he delivers well in both Spanish and English. He has a commanding stage presence that reflects the charisma that Picasso probably had in real life. Paloma Irizarry as Odette, was a sweet and sympathetic lover, and she also displayed versatility as the other “positive” women in Pablo’s life, Nina, Conchita and Fernande.   I was impressed by her natural quality in both French and Spanish.

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As Germaine, Sol Madariaga was cruel and brazen. Madariaga excels as the villian, displaying a calm unfeeling exterior at times, and then bursting into a rage. She was the one who rejected Carles, and later engages in a dysfunctional and obsessive relationship with Picasso. Germaine was appropriately over the top, aggressive and irritating. She was the perfect contrast to Odette, and she was the menace loved and hated by Carles and Picasso. Germaine is depicted as a negative influence on both men, yet she appears as a subject of “La Vie.” As Carles Casagemas and Max Jacob, friends of Picasso, Cameron Del Grosso, shows tremendous acting range. Carles comes across as a fragile yet romantic and sincere artist, while Max is confident and much more in control. Inez Korff, Yajaira Paredes, Veronica Ponce de Leon Placencia and Liliana Ruiz round out the cast and deserve extra praise for dancing and playing both male and female characters convincingly. Dramatic and effective lighting was designed by Alyssandra Dochtery and costumes by David Reese Hutchison.

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Azul is definitely a “must-see” for artists and lovers of Picasso’s art, if only to commiserate in the representation of his struggles. It provides background information about his life and his creative inspiration. It shows onstage the dilemma of “how do I sell my art and still be true to my own self/voice” that all artists face at one point or another. Flamenco aficionados will enjoy the dancing, and Spanish speakers will appreciate the opportunity to attend theatre in the language in Philadelphia.

Hopefully we will be seeing more of La Fábrica and of works by up and coming playwright, Tanaquil Marquéz. Azul plays through Sunday August 29 at the Drake Theatre in Philadelphia. For tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/azul-tickets-35309378301

For more information about La Fábrica: https://www.facebook.com/LaFabricaTheater

To read a review about Azul in DCMetro Theater Arts: DC Metro Theater Arts