Female Trouble

In my Spanish-English dictionary, the following words are translated in sequence:

machacar (or machucar): to pound, to crush
machete: heavy knife
macho: male animal, male part, manly

Sometimes, in learning a language, one can glean meaning from other words with similar root sounds. The connection seems to hold true in this case, especially if one bore witness to the possible havoc wrought upon females in a male-dominated society, as presented during the second half of the Seventh International Hispanic Theater Festival.

Las mujeres received quite a beating in all the better plays -- not to mention rape, molestation, incest, adultery, and various other forms of psychological and physical torment, even to the point of being driven insane. Although not every entry showed off the highest caliber of acting and writing, each evoked a dark, dense mood of loss and confusion.

In the first two pieces -- La Hora Menguada and Sabina Y Lucrecia -- men don't even appear. But their presence is acutely felt, like a sexual hurricane sweeping through, destroying women's lives. La Hora, by Cesar Rojas, produced by Centro De Directores Para El Nuevo Teatro of Venezuela, contained such black shading it could have been called Batman: The Play, or Whatever Happened to Baby Juan? Two embittered sisters imprison themselves in a cavelike room, a hell right out of Sartre's No Exit, in which they perform ritualistic antisocial behaviors and hurl insults at each other in an attempt to perpetuate revenge. The ugly duckling sister bore a son by the other's husband, and neither sibling can forget it. Now each woman is consumed with envy -- of money, fertility, marriage, or looks; their lives linked forever by venom.

The acting leans toward melodrama -- Venezuela imports more than its fair share of soap operas, and their influence is evident. However, the stark, shock-ridden staging (including a simulated birth on a revolving wooden table) by director Daniel Uribe, and the commitment of Nazareth Gil and Norma Fernandez to the vitriol of their roles, provides the play with enough impact. The reason for all the hate and hysteria also becomes painfully clear: during one of the few times these women connect with any type of tenderness, they play a patty-cake clapping game to the singsong sentence: "Las cosas de los hombres son falsas" ("The things of men are false").

If the women in La Hora Menguada teeter on the brink, victims of testosterone gone mad, Sabina Y Lucrecia plunges to the very bottom of the abyss. It's difficult to distinguish what's real from what's not in this ugly -- and true -- story by Alberto Adellach, told from the viewpoints of two escaped mental patients. I must say that in all my years of theatrical attendance, I've never witnessed anything so hard to watch. Imagine having to sit locked for two hours in the psychiatric wing of Jackson Memorial -- or among homeless psychotics. Due to the brilliant acting of Marilyn Romero and Teresa Maria Rojas, and direction by Rolando Moreno (from the local group Prometeo, of Miami-Dade Community College -- Wolfson Campus), the characters are frightfully real. Switching wildly from giggles to hallucinations to waking nightmares -- accompanied by Parkinsonian tics caused by antipsychotic drugs -- the terrified duo inhabit a real cave filled with garbage, which they pretend is a "casa muy linda" ("very pretty house").

Again, destruction stems, however indirectly, from contact with the male species. Both have been lied to, cheated on, molested, and used in vicious ways, rendering one a paranoid schizophrenic and the other a delusional psychotic so helpless she allows men to fondle her at their will. In fact, it is the desire to be with a male again that leads to one woman's murder by the other. Somewhere within the freestyle script (more of an acting exercise than a play) lies a metaphor about people sticking together against their tormentors, but the up-front picture concerns women abandoned by a society regarding them as just more trash.

The fairer sex doesn't fare much better in Ahora Somos Dos, a highly intelligent adaption presented in Russian by Theatre On Podol, from Kiev, Ukraine. By combining two of Federico Garcia Lorca's shorter plays -- La Zapatera Prodigiosa and Amor De Don Perlimplin Con Belisa En Su Jardin -- the troupe enriched the idea shared by both, of old men grabbing young wives they can't satisfy. La Zapatera ("the shoemaker's wife"), rife with sociological and political barbs about the price one pays for being different, surrounds the text of Don Perlimplin, resulting in the old play-within-a-play. Actors from the first piece sit in a tavern watching the second, and everyone -- including the background musicians -- becomes part of the action. Director Vitaly Malajov proved that elaborate sets don't make a production great (the stage is practically bare), but that dramaturgy does. (I'd like to thank Ed Rozinsky, former graduate of the Leningrad Conservatory, for helping me through the Ukrainian work.)

The final production of the festival by the controversial Teatro Do Ornitorrinco of Brazil, brazenly directed by Maria Alice Vergueiro, took a romping, erotic slant on the theme of the same Don Perlimplin (minus the La Zapatera piece). While the Ukrainians made some alterations, the Brazilians remained more faithful to the original work. And distinctly unlike the Kiev group, flashes of bare breasts and even total nudity enhanced some scenes, such as one in which Belisa, the bimbo bride, languidly washes her perfect body in the feeble old geezer's garden. But despite significantly more slapstick in the Sao Paulo version, the tragic ending remained constant in both: Belisa's husband teaches her about love and longing by making her a widow, in the same way la zapatera learns of heartache through her husband's departure.

It remains a mystery whether the men who wrote the first two pieces meant them as a warning to macho mentality: If you use and abuse women in ways that break hearts, their minds will follow. Lorca, on the other hand, certainly cautioned against warped power struggles -- in the end, they're what killed him.

A final note on the jamboree. More good than bad popped out of this international box, and attendance remained strong. In the constant but often futile battle to become a stage capital, Miami showed a strong Latin front. Playwrights wrote effective drama, actors passionately paralleled reality, and directors took risks. Most of all, audiences did the only thing needed to encourage real theater -- they came.

STAGE NOTES
Unless you love Patty Duke, Uncle Bernie's Fourth of July picnic, and Catskill resort murder mysteries, do yourself a favor and steer clear of Sensations, at the Doubletree Hotel, 2649 South Bayshore Drive, Coconut Grove, every Friday beginning July 10. And unless you have $49.95 per person to waste on watery drinks, camp-style chicken, and beef stew, along with some old fruit covered in Bosco, don't call 858-9032 for reservations. Basically a thin plot joins caricatures of tabloid celebrities (now isn't that worthless?) who sing badly, talk to you over dinner, touch you up, give you condoms, drag you to another floor for a seance -- are you believing this? -- and then shoot each other with cap guns. They told me it was a musical comedy. Producer Deborah Dockerill (a nice, pretty lady) probably hopes it will be an interact-with-the-audience, pseudo-theater hit, like Tony and Tina's Wedding (forget that the New York production of the latter was a lot more fun and featured much-better actors who knew how to improvise with the patrons). Only a good Roseanne Arnold imitation (if there is such a thing) by Sandy Singer and a scary dominatrix by Geneve provided any fun. This is an evening that would humiliate most people I know.

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