Arlington’s Teatro de la Luna is offering a gentle comedy/drama from Uruguay at the Gunston Arts Center’s Theatre Two. It is presented, as most of Teatro’s plays are, in Spanish with English surtitles projected above the playing space.
This means that the show is instantly accessible for the Spanish speaking portion of our community. That is a community which is served by two professional Spanish language companies (the other being GALA Hispanic Theatre in Washington).
It also makes the theatrical literature of the majority of the Americas accessible to our English speakers who can read along with only slightly more effort than watching and listening to a play in their native tongue.
"Rifar el Corazón" ("Heartstrings" in English) is a warm drama with plenty of humor by Dino Armas, an award-winning and highly prolific playwright from Montevedeo. It is directed with simple, straightforward honesty by Teatro de la Luna’s Artistic Director, Mario Marcel on a simple but efficient set of his own design.
Most of the play takes place center-stage at a dinning room table where two sisters share thoughts, memories and barbs over tea or the ubiquitous South American beverage mate, which is sipped through a metal straw from a gourd. Two spaces to the sides are draped with thin fabric which lets the audience see flashback scenes that fill out the plot between sisterly reminiscences.
These reminiscences bring to light the reasons that underlie the tensions between the sisters, the near catatonic state of the daughter of the older sister. She has neither spoken nor stood since she underwent an abortion following an affair her mother may well have opposed. The story of the affair, the abortion and the reaction comes out in a cascade of details as the sisters recall bits and pieces of their past.
While it is a three-woman show, one woman sets the tone. She’s Nucky Walder, a Teatro de la Luna regular and its producer. Her comfort level on stage is such that she carries the evening on her shoulders. As the older sister, the one who has spent her later life caring for her wheelchair-bound daughter, she sets the pace of the conversation and it is her transitions from lighthearted banter to defensive retorts and from exasperated rejoinders to reluctant regrets that make the show much more than just a verbal contest between sisters.
The other sister is played by Marycarmen Wila with a smooth, pleasant presence. Yovinca Arredondo Justiniano is fully up to the more challenging task of portraying the daughter both in the current moment in her wheelchair, and in the flashbacks, as a love-struck and vital young girl.
A very important element in Marcel’s staging is the presence of a fourth performer, Alex Alburqueque who sits at a piano on one side of the stage and sings soulful songs before each act and between each scene. His smooth delivery is appropriately devoid of flashy embellishments, allowing the simple beauty of the songs to linger in the hall. Unfortunately, the lyrics of the songs are not translated into English for display on the surtitle screen.
Reading and following simultaneously does take a bit more concentration than simply watching, but the experience soon becomes nearly second nature. The English translations of the Spanish text of the play are best viewed from the seats higher up in the rows where the eyes can follow both text and action without English speakers having to keep moving their heads up and down with each line of dialogue. Spanish speaking audience members, on the other hand, would do better to sit lower down where they may not even notice the surtitle board once the action gets going. Either way, the play provides a gentle pleasure.
Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland and writes about theater for a number of national magazines. He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.