Ricardo Talesnik is the Neil Simon of Hispanic Theatre. But look out, Talesnik’s humor can throw you off-guard.
A multi-award-winner for Argentine television comedies and for Las Quero a las Dos, which has been staged in New York and adapted as a movie, Talesnik explores conflict and pain in human relationships in a matchless way. He provokes us to ponder why loyalty, honesty and communication in marriage are so important.
The classic love triangle revolves around Miguel (Peter Pereyra, whose expressive face is a wonder to watch), a philandering husband. He is packing for a business trip, although in reality, he is leaving the country with his mistress, Isabel, (Karen Morales-Chacana) who is waiting at the airport. The wife, Julia, (Yovinca Arredondo Justiniano) gets wise, locks the front door from the inside, hides the key, and disconnects the phone. Because they live on the eighth floor, Miguel can’t escape out the window.
The traditional Roman farce has five doors to open and slam shut. And director Mario Marcel, who has designed a stunning, efficient set, with sea-blue walls, stages Las Quiero with four exits and a window, that allows Miguel to imagine himself Tarzan of the jungle, who makes hysterical attempts to escape with knotted bed sheets.
So what’s nontraditional in this comedy about a wife-mistress-womanizer relationship? Welcome to the 21st century. Mistress and wife meet. And instead of tearing each other apart, the trio in this dangerous liaison switch roles and try alternative lifestyles to fill everyone’s needs. Whatever it takes for freedom. Some exciting, surreal interactions take place in unexpected plot reversals, game playing and philosophical speculations. This well-written play with tour-de-force roles is a surprise a minute.
Marcel directs his three-actor ensemble with break-neck pacing that leaves you breathless. All three versatile actors, known from former Teatro productions, have superb moments that are intellectually challenging, bordering on soliloquies from theatre-of-the-absurd.
As the lights come up, Pereyra skillfully underplays Miguel’s desperation. When the womanizer realizes his keys are lost, he goes ballistic and behaves like a scrambling, caged animal, as if these are the keys to life, freedom, and happiness. One intense moment has him barking like a dog and Julia chasing after him. “There are so many things I have not yet experienced,” he cries. “Thousands and thousands of kilometers in all directions! Enormous mountains…Seas of blue..” The dog wants out and Julia yanks on his tie as if it’s a leash as she tries to seduce and hold on to him.
In one-pulse-stopping moment, Julia brings the hidden keys out in the open and a game of key-toss back and forth takes place until Julia throws the keys at Miguel’s feet. He is free to leave. But he can’t. Why? The situation at this point is unresolved and we are free to interpret. It’s a wonderfully theatrical moment that reaches allegorical heights.
Just when husband and wife are on the brink of reconciliation, the door bell rings and in crashes the mistress. Karen Morales-Chacana, as Isabel, in a sweeping, magnificent entrance in blond wig and big sunglasses, hot-pink wrap-around top, black tights and boots, is mesmerizing. What does it mean to be the other woman? The mistress has her chance to reveal her vulnerabilities, her anxieties, her longings to be a wife with one man to protect and care for her. “In the end we almost always find ourselves alone,” Isabel laments. Morales-Chacana is remembered from last season’s May 2011 production of As If It Were Tonight, (by Gracia Morales) as the victimized woman. Here, Morales-Chacana as Isabel is both flamboyant and poignant.
Yovinca Arredondo Justiniano, who gave a heart-wrenching performance in the 2010 staging of Heartstrings (by Dino Armas) as the mentally-challenged daughter, is the super-smart, intuitive, but pragmatic, wife. Julia is the character to propose experimental living, with equal rights and freedoms, by inviting the mistress into the household.
What gives this comedy its sting? Ultimately, there’s an element of sad truth behind all the lies and cover-ups that lead to a decisive high point. Miguel, who wants both women (“Las quiero a las dos.” “I love you both.”) leans back on the sofa with his mistress nestled close to him on his right side, his wife on his left. Has Miguel, as a settled-down Don Juan, found perfect love in heaven? You have to see the play to find out what happens next. It’s hilarious.
For me personally, I sensed that there is a message behind the madness. Let’s accept our wild side needs and live life to the fullest. But if we live without boundaries, there’s push-back at the end. Actions have consequences.
In Spanish with simultaneous English translation by David Bradley on easy-to-read overhead surtitles.
Las Quiero a las Dos (I Want Them Both)
By Ricardo Talesnik
Directed by Mario Marcel
Produced by Teatro de la Luna
Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission.