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Hispanic Theater Festival Opens in Arlington

On the opening weekend, theatre-goers saw a 17th century play with an existentialist twist.

Audiences in Arlington will see new performances by actors from Spain, South America and the Caribbean during the eighth annual International Festival of Hispanic Theater.

The festival, organized by Teatro de la Luna — a local theater specializing in Latin American drama — features productions from five nations: Spain, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. Its theme for this year is "The Best of Both Worlds," according to the theater's spokeswoman, Nucky Walder.

"‘The best of both worlds’ means presenting work from the old world of Spain and the new world of Latin America," said Walder, a native of Paraguay. "We began doing this because we felt the need to bring our theater troupes, actors from all over the world, to Arlington for Latinos and non-Latinos alike to enjoy."

Every year, Walder and her company review many videotaped performances to select what will be included in the festival, and they even fly to home countries of some troupes to meet them in person. Nine troupes are a part of this year's festival. Once the plays are chosen, she added, another challenge begins. Bringing the actors into the United States can prove a daunting task,

"If we're bringing in a big-name actors, we don't have any trouble, but with others, there can be trouble convincing the authorities to give them a visa," she said.

Most of the plays selected, Walder said, carry a certain cultural, political or philosophical message to share with the audience.

"We look for things that represent people's lives in each troupe's country," she said.

OVER THE WEEKEND, audiences got a look at "Thespians, or Of Lice and Actors," the story of two actors stuck in a kind of existential limbo.

An adaptation of a 17th-century Spanish play by Augustine de Rojas, “Thespians” is much like Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot." In it, playwright Jose Sanchez Sinisterra presents two actors playing characters who, in a rather avante garde twist, are actors themselves. The two discuss life and the human condition.

"It is quite an existentialist story," said Jesus Puebla, an actor in Teatro del Azar, the troupe from Valladolid, northeastern Spain, that is performing the piece. "It's also pretty interactive. They address a lot of questions to the audience, although they don't really wait for an answer."

The festival's performances are in Spanish with live dubbing for English-speaking audience members. Puebla's show is now gone, but Friday, another will open, "El Inmigrante” (The Immigrant). That play will run through the weekend. Others will follow until the festival ends on March 19.

The festival is sponsored by a grant from Arlington's Cultural Affairs Division.

"It's a great opportunity to experience the breadth of Hispanic culture," said Jim Byers, the division's director of marketing. "These aren't just rank-and-file performers. They are the Tony-award winners, so to speak, from their home countries."

Beginning April 2, Teatro de la Luna will also host a showcase of Spanish-language poetry to honor Don Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of "Don Quixote del Mancha."