On a dimly lit stage, a sensually twisted, abstract sculpture is anchored to a pedestal and spotlighted in red. From overhead speakers comes a voice: “Can you hear me?” The question sounds out-of-place and odd, and remains unanswered until repeated, like a refrain, at the end of this theatre-of-the-grotesque satire, that, at various high points, is hysterically funny.
Argentinean playwright Rafael Bruza wants so badly to make us think, he’s willing to make us squirm. In Gentlemen’s Club (Love Torn) / Club De Caballeros (Rotos de Amor), Bruza takes sad events and exaggerates them outrageously and makes us laugh. He shows us how love drives men silly. The Gentlemen’s Club becomes a halfway house for curing heartbroken men. Healing remedies for lovesickness range from philosophy to drugs and hair color changes at the beauty parlor; but every treatment fails. And that’s where the fun begins.
What makes this show a must-see is the way Teatro de la Luna’s artistic director Mario Marcel handles the lively quartet of actors with lickity-split pacing and inspires tour-de-force performances. What is amazing is the way these actors strike a happy balance between characters narrating their stories, and then melting into interactive scenes with each other. The play may be about a Gentlemen’s Club for Latinos; but what it has to say is universal.
In the first scene, La piecita del fondo/The little shed out back, we meet Rodriquez (Alex López-Montañez), whose marriage has splintered apart because his wife is cheating on him. So what did this high-level bureaucrat, a Secretary General, do to be thrown literally to the dog? Rodriguez didn’t take his wife dancing. And now, Helena shares the house with her tango instructor. Guarded by a gigantic, snarling dog, Delilah, (the dog can be imagined from the other characters’ larger-than-life reactions), Helena is free to cuckold Rodriguez, who desperately wants to regain “his honor.”
Actor López-Montañez, in red shirt, white tie, sleek black suit (costumes by Rosita Becker and Nucky Walder), plays the humiliated husband to the hilt. His anger under a cool surface reminds us of the dashing heroes from the Spanish Golden Age revenge tragedies. Yet, ironically, our modern hero sleeps in a hot, cramped tool shed out back with the door half-closed, in fear of being attacked by the “huge” dog at night. Let Helena “sleep with whomever she wants,” Berlanguita suggests in a later scene. But Rodriguez is human and hopes for change.
In contrast, La Espera/The Wait, we encounter the clown-like Berlanguita (Jerry Daniel), costumed in peach-colored shirt, who is madly infatuated with an illusion. This shy guy has been waiting eight years to drum up the courage to speak to his lady love, a married woman with two children. And Daniel strikes just the right balance between narrating his character’s palpitating, heartfelt story and projecting the character’s unhinged emotions. He projects a quivering passion as he confesses, “I never spoke to her.” And we wholeheartedly empathize when he adds tenderly, “….if I did, I’d ruin it. There’s no greater destruction of love than the one that becomes real.”
For fifteen years, Berlanguita has arrived on the lady’s street carrying the same bouquet of flowers ready to hand to her. By the end of the week, the flowers have drooped, and he replaces them. Daniel’s straight ahead, soulful delivery from the stage apron is so earnest, the flowers almost seem to wilt before our eyes. And in the rooftop scene, En lo alto/Up On the Heights, after Berlanguita finally has mustered up the courage to make his dream real, Daniel’s reenactment is so heart-warming we don’t want the illusion to stop. It’s that hilarious and touching.
Gentlemen’s Club (Love Torn)
Closes May 25, 2013
Gunston Arts Center
2700 S. Lang Street
1 hour, 30 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $30 – $35
Thursdays thru Saturdays
Alex Alburqueque is equally mesmerizing as the underdog, Artemio, who has a tragic flaw. He snores. Dressed in bright blue shirt, white tie, Alburqueque, in the best character work I’ve seen him do, comes across as a debonair, loose-jointed comedian, who elicits laughter from every gag line. His depiction of Artemio could be Malvolio from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In the wonderfully funny scene, La Serenata/The Serenade, Alburqueque melodramatically narrates how Artemio uses the metaphysical poetry of Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío, as an aphrodisiac for his sleep-deprived wife, who tosses him out for snoring. Stubbornly, Artemio wildly continues to woo her. The send-up of the classic troubadour’s romantic balcony serenade, is led by Rodriguez, who rubs sticks over the notched sides of the tubular güiro, a percussive instrument. And Artemio and three other club members, singing off-key, resemble anemic, love-starved, caterwauling cats. When Artemio’s wife yells out the window (in a voiceover): “I’m sick and tired of your adoration,” I couldn’t help but think: The modern world’s Women’s Movement has totally toppled the Latino Lover as a hero.
The resolution is psychologically upbeat. To be fully human, you have to shed illusions and feel pain. Men flock together for defense and to laugh at life’s painful injustices. I loved the ambiguity of one of the last questions Rodriguez raises: “Is there anything more ridiculous than a man in love?” The ending sweeps into a whirlwind. All four gentlemen do a little tango around their suitcases, packed with illusions, pick them up and exit dancing– each with his own fantasy in his solitary world.
Four bravos, one for each actor in the ensemble.
In Spanish with English supertitles
Gentlemen’s Club (Love Torn) / Club De Caballeros (Rotos De Amor) . By Rafael Bruza, from Buenos Aires, Argentina . Directed by Mario Marcel (Argentina) . Translated by David Bradley and Christine Stoddard . Produced by Teatro De La Luna . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.