By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Originally chosen to participate in the International Hispanic Theater Festival, the play ended up running independently with a preview at Miami Light Project and then an opening at GableStage, where it employs the cobalt blue walls of the venue's concurrent production of The Blue Room. The minimalist set serves Hombres well. Banda-Rodaz adds a few chairs and a painter's easel with poster boards, which are used to signal the beginning of each new one-act. The director has taken what was originally a very static collection of plays and intelligently heightened the movement and physicality in this production. This pays off especially in the evening's two standout plays: Primavera and Ramone.
In Francesc Pereira's Primavera, a little boy tells of his early sexual experiences. Some are disturbing, others are hilarious, but the acting in this piece is what truly mesmerizes. Ivonne Azurdia and Jennifer Smith simultaneously play a little boy in horn-rimmed glasses. Azurdia sits in a chair telling the story, while Smith gives a visual account through mime. While Azurdia wrings her hands and speaks rapidly in a breathless-little-boy voice, Smith's eyes grow wide and awestruck behind the thick spectacles. The rhythm between these two actresses is so impeccable, it almost feels like a jazz riff. Azurdia's evocative voice ranges from incredulous to chagrined; her comic timing meshes perfectly with Smith's astounding array of gestures and facial expressions. By confining her body to a small working space, Smith intensifies the effect of her broad gesticulations.
In Sergi Belbel's Ramone, Azurdia, Michelle Riu, Luisa Mercedes Garcia, and Esther Galeote represent one unhappy woman confronting her negligent husband, played by Smith. As the male chauvinist husband, Smith modulates her character so well that by the end he is both terrifying and hilarious. This control also prevents Ramone from becoming a caricature. The text calls for the women to sit in a row in front of the title character, but Banda-Rodaz chose to have the four women walk a circle around him, visually and spatially heightening the dramatic tension. Riu, Smith, and Azurdia, all Miami-based actresses who perform primarily in English, give excellent performances in Spanish. The entire troupe coheres well. With a few chairs and an empty stage, Hombres is a must-see for all Spanish speakers, male and female.