Huggings (La Importancia del Abrazo)
written, directed and performed by Pilar Nuñez and Jaime Lema
produced by Teatro de la Luna
reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
The raw intensity of this opener for Teatro De La Luna’s Eleventh International Festival of Hispanic Theater comes straight at you from the cobbled streets and heartland of Peru, from effervescent fringe festivals and breaks beautifully with traditional theater.
The defiant male character, Sebastian (Jaime Lema), dressed in a trench coat, stands in the solitary confinement of a hot-white spotlight. “I am an artist,” he tells us, just as his entire family and father was. The mysterious Damabunda (Pilar Nuñez), dressed in slinky black with sparkling sequins and veils over her face, identifies herself as an artist as well. She waits for the time to come “…when man helps man,” she tells us cynically in a tone of despair. So how do two separate egos transcend their isolation and come together?
Jaime Lema, who shares directing/writing credits of Huggings with Nuñez, created the Komilfo Theater for “The Actor-Dancer,” his experimental workshop. Komilfo Theater is dedicated to synergistic vehicles, the theater’s oldest forms, similar to what the Synetic Theater does here. The premise for the action is clearly contrived and theatrical: Two Peruvian cabaret actors, the protagonists, are in search of each other. They have no destination, no play to perform. Damabunda and Sebastian de la Luce once performed together but split and went their separate ways. After 20 years, both have changed but they ache to come together again. But movement speaks louder than words. These performers dance out their fears and repressions, their ego-clashes, and difficulties in connecting.
Nuñez is simply great as Damabunda, both as dancer and singer. After a humorous impersonation of a chugging train to symbolize her departure from rural life, she takes command of a center stage spot by her earthy, gutteral singing (in German) of “Mack, the Knife” from Threepenny Opera, Kurt Weill’s and Bertolt Brecht’s revolutionary 20th century masterpiece, that rejects virtue and embraces evil. For a moment, Nunez seems a reincarnation of one of Brecht’s street girls, backed by the recorded sound of that wheezy, nickelodeon organ-music. It’s a thrilling segment that brings to life a 1933 musical from Berlin, so relevant today.
Together, Nuñez and Lema make an extraordinary partnership. Lema, with his lively, nervous energy, and acrobat’s body, as agile as a spider’s, is equally impressive as Sebastian. A thread of anxiety connects the characters on stage. With outreached trembling hand, Sebastian skittishly presents Damabunda with a rose. She walks up, seizes the rose and tears it apart. Sebastian dances grotesquely around Damabunda and cries out, “Don’t touch me, my dreams, …I have everything I need.” But even when not touching, you feel the two characters are still in contact. Slowly they inch toward each other and finally clasp hands. But there’s still more to come.
The black box set is like a fighter’s ring where the characters clash and settle their differences. What begins in isolated square boxes of light comes together, well-coordinated at the end in one, lighted circle. Lighting designed by Hernan Elias and Jaime Lema is commendable and highlights the important dynamics.
A must mention: Both Lema and Nuñez trained and performed with the world-famous CuatroTablas, a fringe group. CuatroTablas is an example of one of Latin America’s outside-the-mainstream-theater companies, that breaks with conventional theater models. It’s a people’s theater, created by the people for the people, to protest injustice, or to maintain cultural identity in street celebrations and religious festivals in the open air. Like New York’s Folksbiene, the national Yiddish Theatre, these theaters bring people together for social reasons, to escape the daily work in factories or the garment district, but mostly for celebrations.
This Teatro de la Luna production really is a chance to see some rare performers who combine mime, dance, cabaret singing, that comes from the gut – all delivered with style and in good taste. Many hugs and bravos to Teatro De La Luna, its staff and sponsors, who once again bring us this horizon-expanding International Festival of Hispanic Theatre. See below for the rest of this festival that brings the world within reach.
Simultaneous English translation through headsets is provided by Marcela Ferlito and Jaime Albarracin.
Running Time: 1:05. No intermission.
When: Two performances remain: Sat. 3:00 p.m. and 8 p.m. through Oct. 11th
But the Festival continues through November 15, 2008. Next week: From the Dominican Republic, “I Come From There-Stories from my grandfather,” by Maria Isabel Bosch, Thurs., Fri. Oct. 16, 17, 8 p.m.; Sat. Oct. 18, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m.; followed by Spain, “The Hand,” by German Madrid, Thurs., Fri., Oct. 23, 24, 8 p.m.; Sat. Oct. 25, 3 p.m. & 8 p.m. See web site, www.teatrodelaluna.org for entries from Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela, and Paraguay; until the festival ends on November 15, 2008.
Where: Gunston Arts Center-Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington VA 22206. Free Parking.
Tickets: $30, regular admission; Students and Seniors over 60, $25. $10 discount if buy on line. $10 discount when buying 3 tickets for three different plays (ask for 3-Ticket Pass). Save up to $60 when buying 7 tickets for seven different plays (Full Festival Pass).
Theater for children tickets: Adults $10; children 4 and under, free. No live English dubbing for children’s shows. See web site.
Post-Performance Discussions every Friday Night.
Childcare provided during Sat. matinees, 24 hour notice required, $10 per child.
Info and Reservations: 703-548-3092. Consult website the website.