Cita a Ciegas (Blind Date)
by Mario Diament
Directed by Jose Carrasquillo
Produced by GALA
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Cita a Ciegas is a terrifyingly beautiful, imagistic play in which a blind man interviews isolated strangers on a park bench, and finds interconnections between them and his own life. If Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot is about waiting; then Diament’s play is about our deep need to achieve immortality by being heard as we face the meaninglessness of existence.
This powerful work has been nominated for best play awards by newspapers in Miami where the Argentine playwright lives. And what better creative team to take on its challenges than the one assembled by GALA.
Jose Carrasquillo directs with great respect as if he has conducted a symphony of spoken words to spellbind us. The word “imagistic” is important because of the way this director stages his actors at scene transitions to reinforce what’s said in dialogue. Entrances and exits, with lighting changes, become symbols of alienation where the characters enter backwards and cross the stage making no eye contact. What are the odds of meeting again? One in a million? A billion? But in Cita a Ciegas, surprises never stop in the way people miss connections and reconnect.
Based on the blind poet/writer Jorge Luis Borges’ fiction of how people live parallel lives and possibilities are limitless, the action in Diament’s play takes place in his characters’ stories. Because the truth is painful and reality hard to endure, the characters live in illusion and dreams. Except an infinitely wise old man, who has lost his eyesight, but hasn’t lost his insight.
Actor Hugo Medrano, who is a master of nuance, delivers a sensitive and luminous performance. From the moment Medrano enters, his hesitant walk but calm serenity tells you his character is blind. Ciego, while living in a locked pattern of daily park-bench-sittings, interviews a bank executive, Hombre, (Manolo Santalla) who is going through a mid-life crisis and fixated with following a young sculptress, Muchacha, (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey).
The banker’s story of adopting disguises to get closer to his dream-woman, who now spurns him, triggers Ciego’s memory to years before, when he could see the physical world. Then, while going up an escalator in the Paris metro, he exchanged a long look with a mysterious woman descending in the opposite direction.
Now living with an idealized dream of a perfect woman, the blind man’s obsession parallels the banker’s. The way actors Medrano and Santalla overlap lines, we sense how for both men, love remains unrequited. How might Ciego’s life have differed if he had pursued the stranger? But although Ciego lives with the regret of a lost chance of passionate love by not following the woman in Paris that day, now as a famous writer, he understands the pain of loss. By listening, he brings together the lives of indifferent strangers as well as his own life.
The second half of the play starts off with a therapy session in a psychologist’s office that parallels the daily life of the blind man’s listening. A depressed woman, Mujer, (Maria Victoria Pena), who has spent 27 years of “self-deception” in a passionless marriage, is in therapy with Psicologo, a psychologist, (Cynthia Benjamin). It’s helpful to know that Mujer’s life parallels a character from Gustave Flaubert’s novel Sentimental Education, where the fictional married woman secretly loves another man. This novel about a young man’s obsesson with an older woman, mentioned by Ciego in the first act, was considered a great 19th century French novel.
I prefer the Spanish Cita a Ciego to the English, Blind Date, as “cita” can be translated “engagement or appointment” suggesting a struggle with death. And the way the break up scene crescendos between actors Cynthia Benjamin and Manolo Santalla as man and wife, masks are virtually blistered away to raw rage in an intense, explosive encounter, confirming that disconnection also leads to violence.
That Diament is an Argentine playwright is essential to know. As a writer he works within a classic structure, inherited from the 17th century Golden Age of Spanish Theatre. The characters are distilled into allegorical types, as they are in Spanish morality plays. Diament’s plays, wordy to an Anglo ear, are carefully structured with a beginning, middle and end; they deal with themes of time and fate, predestination and free will. A warning: For some, the English surtitles come at such a rapid pace, there is no time to think.
Scenic designer Elizabeth J. McFadden backs the players with grotesque tree silhouettes, that fade into phantoms, on a cyclorama back drop, lending a dream-like quality to the setting., Lighting designer. Ayun Fedorcha , blends pastel tints with harsh daylight spots. Sound designer Neil McFadden mixes in sufficiently evocative, eerie and romantic, not obtrusive, plucked music for the flashbacks to spine-chilling moments of revelation in the character’s stories.
Eternity is an infinite library, Ciego tells us; a place where books are brought together to touch each other on shelves. The way life stories overlap leaves hope at the end, as two of the five characters sit on the park bench and physically touch hands. Is it fate or accident in a random world that these five characters are related in a mysterious way?
Wake up, Washington D.C. theater goers. The GALA Theatre is making an impact on theater culture. Every seat in the Tivoli should be filled.
Postscript: The night I attended, Columbian concert guitarist Nilko Andreas from New York City, was in the lobby playing flamenco music, a lovely introduction to this poetic play.
(Running time: about 2:15 with 1 intermission) Cita a Ciegas (Blind Date) by Mario Diament, performed in Spanish with English sur-titles, continues until Oct. 14th at the GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square, 3333 14th St. NW. Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets: $30 on Thurs.; $34, Fri., Sat.; $30 on Sun. Students and seniors (65+) and military, $20 (Sun.); $26 (Fri./Sat.). Discounts for groups of 10 or more. Tickets available at TICKETPLACE. Call: (202) 234-7174; or (800) 494-TIXS. Or visit http://www.galatheatre.org/ Parking: Discount parking available behind the theater in the Giant parking garage.