Hispanic Theatre Festival: Teatro Avante gives Camus a Caribbean slant

‘El malentendido’ by Mario Ernesto Sánchez is a new version of Albert Camus’ play, closing out the XXVI International Hispanic Theatre Festival, as Mia Leonin reports for The Miami Herald.

One of the traditions of the International Hispanic Theatre Festival, now in its 26th year, is to close with a play by Teatro Avante, the company that produces and organizes the festival. This year Avante’s production of El Malentendido (The Misunderstanding) ends the three-week long festival on a somber note.

Mario Ernesto Sánchez, artistic director of the festival and Teatro Avante, has written a version of Camus’ Le Malentendu. In general, Teatro Avante’s version follows the original plotline: a wealthy man, Pedro (Julio Rodríguez) returns home after living in a foreign country for 40 years. In his absence, Pedro’s mother and his sister, Marta, have endured years of poverty, solitude, and hopelessness. The women run a hotel to survive. Pedro checks in, but he hides his identity secretly hoping to be discovered. The women don’t recognize Pedro, and the consequences are disastrous

Sánchez, who also directs, preserves the essence of Camus’ absurdism: Values such as love, family, and happiness are ultimately invalidated by man’s mortality. This is most fully embodied in the character of Marta, Julio’s sister, robustly portrayed by Neher Jacqueline Briceño. Pedro’s nostalgia is overshadowed by Marta’s resolute indifference and ultimately her complete amorality. Veteran actress, Isabel Moreno brings a compelling emotional range to the role of the mother. Julio Rodriguez’s Pedro is believable, but somewhat distant. I wanted to connect with his dreams and frustrations more profoundly.

Sánchez’s version doesn’t refer explicitly to Cuba, but the women speak with a Caribbean cadence and the play’s sense of repression certainly alludes to dictatorship (Camus wrote the play while France was under German occupation).

The production is at the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater. The set designers, Jorge Noa and Pedro Balmaseda, utilize the entire stage, which opens up the Carnival Studio’s intimate space. The large scale of the set and the dramatic draping effect of paper ringlets hanging from ceiling to floor suggest a rambling, dilapidated house with mysterious nooks and crannies.

This year’s festival closes on Sunday with a matinee performance of El Malentendido. A dance production from Spain is also scheduled on Saturday.

This year’s festival was lively and well attended. Chile, the featured country, delivered powerful performances and drew enthusiastic crowds from Miami’s Chilean community.

Another highlight was the annual International Children’s Day at Miami Dade College’s InterAmerican Campus. Instructors from Teatro Prometeo’s conservatory program offered workshops in acting, singing, and dance. Mexico City’s Aquelarre Teatro performed El Pájaro Dziú (The Dziu Bird), a folktale imaginatively narrated by puppets created from scarves, baskets, and kitchen utensils. The International Children’s Day, which is always free and open to the public, is a testament to the festival’s dedication to community outreach and audience development.

A festival is only as good as its individual parts. Once again, the International Hispanic Theatre Festival offered South Floridians a diverse range of exceptional Spanish-language plays.

If you go

What: XXVI International Hispanic Theatre Festival.

Info: 305-445-8877, http://www.teatroavante.com; 305-949-6722, http://www.arshtcenter.org.

Cost: $29 ($24 seniors, students and those with disabilities) at Carnival; $25 for ‘Espérame Despierto.’

THE SHOWS

‘Espérame Despierto’ by MOPA of Spain, 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Wolfson Auditorium, Miami Dade College, Bldg. 1, 300 NE Second Ave. (dance).

‘El Malentendido’ by Teatro Avante of Miami, 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m. Sunday, Carnival Studio Theater, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. (Spanish with English supertitles).

For the original report go to http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/07/22/2326090/hispanic-theatre-festival-teatro.html#ixzz1StJrBvUw

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