International Hispanic Theatre Festival 2011 showcases diversity and honors Chile

In a city that is as diverse in lifestyle and taste as Miami, the International Hispanic Theatre Festival (IHTF) — presented by Teatro Avante Thursday, July 7, through July 24 — has been singular in churning out quality stage productions from the Spanish-speaking world every year for a quarter-century.

Some of the productions, ranging in style from the mythical to the comedic, have had sizable casts, while others have been solo performances. But each has left an impression as the IHTF has made good on its promise of introducing Miami to a dazzling and eclectic mix of plays from varied and talented Spanish-language playwrights. Since the festival's inception in 1986, the IHTF has evolved into an internationally recognized, multilingual, multiethnic cultural event, making it the only theater festival of its kind in the country.

"We try to present some of the best productions from Latin America, Europe, and the U.S. to a very diversified audience eager to experience theater works from their country of origin," says Mario Ernesto Sánchez, the theater festival's director and chief organizer. "The Festival tries to be inclusive in all respects and presents some plays with titles in English, [and] dance and dance-theater for the benefit of the non-Spanish speaker as well."

Since 2008, the festival has chosen to showcase a specific Latin American country. Past seasons featured Spain, Colombia, and Mexico. This year, it's Chile, which boasts a growing and thriving art scene, says Sanchez, who attends the country's Festival a Mil every year.

"Chile is a country where most of its youth has something to do with the arts, either as a student or as a member of the audience," Sanchez says. "All the festival's theaters are filled to capacity. Sometimes the oldest members of the audience are in their 30s. Chile is definitely building the audience of tomorrow."

This year's Miami festival will showcase plays by Chilean playwrights, feature a photo exhibit dedicated to the country, and hand out its annual Lifetime Achievement Award to Chilean actress Delfina Guzmán. Also the IHTF commissioned Chilean artist Jaime Ferrer to design the festival's 26th-anniversary poster.

The fest kicks things off with Lo Crudo, Lo Cocido, Lo Podrido (The Raw, The Cooked, The Rotten) being performed Thursday and Friday, July 7 and 8, at 8:30 p.m. at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theatre (1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami). The play, written by Chilean playwright Marco Antonio de la Parra, tells the story of three furtive and mysterious waiters who cling to the rules of a bygone era as they wait on patrons at a restaurant called "The Immortals." It's a play that reflects attitudes toward life and work in Chile under dictator Augusto Pinochet's military rule. It is a commentary on the nation's recent history as well. 

Another Chilean play, Amores de Cantina (Barroom Loves), is a musical tragicomedy written by one of the country's best and most influential playwrights, Juan Radrigán Rojas. Through its themes, the multifaceted story probably represents Chile best: It touches on love, social exclusion, a sense of living in a devastated homeland, and, of course, wine. Amores will be performed Saturday, July 9, at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 10, at 5 p.m. at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theatre.

Plays from other nations will be featured as well, including Spain's Decir Lluvia y que Llueva (Just Say Rain, and it Rains), a unique feast for the senses that features visual poetry, dance, dialogue, and music. The show takes place Thursday, July 14, and Friday, July 15, at 8:30 p.m. at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theatre. There's also a Mexican mythical tale, the environmentally conscious El Pajaro Dziu (The Dziu Bird), part of the festival's International Children's Day event on Sunday, July 17, that features workshops, arts, crafts, and food, and culminates with the performance. Children's Day kicks off at 2 p.m. at Miami Dade College InterAmerican Campus (627 SW 127th Ave., Miami) and is free. El Pajaro Dziu will be performed at 6 p.m.

The IHTF will also present various plays by Latino playwrights from the U.S., including the comedy El Coordinador (The Coordinator) by Benjamin Galemiri, which will be staged on Monday, July 11, at 8:30 p.m. at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus's Prometeo Theatre (300 NE Second Ave., building one, second floor, Miami) at 8:30 p.m. And there will be a presentation of Albert Camus's El Malentendido (The Misunderstanding) on Thursday, July 21; Friday, July 22; and Saturday, July 23, at 8:30 p.m. at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theatre (both plays are free to the public).

Those are just a few of the rich and entertaining works chosen from among the more than 100 plays submitted from both Latin America and Spain. Sanchez and the festival's selection committee had the unenviable task of narrowing the program down to 11 plays that fit the festival's admittedly minuscule budget.

Ultimately, the decision was based on artistic quality, with diverse audiences from the Magic City always in mind, Sanchez says.

"The selection process is not easy," he admits. "But the main objective is to present a balanced festival in terms of quality and themes, and what's appealing to Miami's diversified community."

Look for New Times reviews of some of the plays on our Cultist blog throughout the month.

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