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CCE's Microteatro por Dinero: Delightfully Smashing, Yet Unrefined

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Last night's launch of the Centro Cultural Español's (CCE) Microteatro por Dinero felt a bit like speed dating for theater lovers. It even included some of the pitfalls of public courtship CCE could easily have avoided.

It obliterated the concept of the fourth wall and placed viewers on stage along with the actors -- at times, literally engaged the audience in the action in an unexpected and cozy fashion.

But watcher beware: Those averse to riding packed elevators or uncomfortable making direct eye contact with strangers might find this level of intimacy with the theater experience overwhelming. Or panic attack-inducing.

The microtheater concept offers audiences an intimate way to experience short plays in genres ranging from musicals to comedy, drama and thrillers in a rapid fire format where one can theoretically see up to nine different performances in one evening. It's a grand idea that enjoyed rave reviews in Spain where it originated. But here at its stateside debut, there are still a few kinks that need to be ironed out.

CCE's month-long event, presented in conjunction with Ritmo Producciones and Espacio USA, employs nine shipping containers as "microtheatres" in which nine 15 minute plays are staged before a maximum audience of 15 spectators simultaneously.

Seven of the plays are in Spanish and, two, We Can Always Dream (a musical) and Blue Jellyfish (a thriller), are in English. Viewers can enjoy works such as La Hipoteca, a drama featuring a working-class family's meltdown brought on by the housing crisis, and psychological drama Otra Fabula, in which a woman who murders her mate is confronted by God in the form of her resurrected lover.

"Otra Fabula" was deftly directed by Yoshvani Medina of Little Havana's ArtSpoken Performing Art Center and featured stellar turns by actors Omar Germenos and Laura Ferretti.

The set design was bare bones minimalistic, composed only of a sawdust carpet. Adding to the unusual and immersive nature of the production, Medina gave spectators hand-cranked flashlights enlisting the entire audience as his lighting technicians.

When the charge on the flashlights ran down at different intervals in the darkened container, one could hear the buzzing of the hand cranks in the enclosed space. Full of shadows that distinctly added to the sense of mystery, the spooky atmosphere through which the actors walked, brushing against audience members, made you feel like an accomplice at a crime scene.

The evening's performances were provocative, and the acting and directing for the most part absorbing, but organizers have some logistical issues to address with their premise.

One quickly apparent problem was the location of the containers -- each set next to each other not unlike sardine tins stacked on a supermarket shelf. This poses a nuisance, because the walls are thin enough to let actors' voices and play soundtracks bleed through the walls, causing distractions. While trying to listen to a musical last night, a melody was drowned out by demonic laughter booming from the production next door. CCE could have avoided this issue by simply situating the individual containers away from each other throughout its expansive patio setting.

Also, during our experience, the usher taking tickets and coordinating the audience groups for each production was disorganized. Though each play runs no more than 15 minutes, you've gotta realistically plan to wait at least half an hour to amble from production to production. Sometimes you'll have to wait even longer if you are planning to take in the works in a predetermined order. Lastly, remember to bring water since the temperature inside the containers can be sweltering. This is Miami, after all, and the containers act like giant convection ovens.

Problems? There were a few. But this event makes for a great cheap date and a theater experience unlike any other, and we predict adventurous types will keep clamoring for more. Perhaps we can even look forward to CCE staging a Porta Potty peephole monologue marathon in the not too distant future.

Look for full review in pulp edition next week.

"Microtheater Miami" through April 29 at the Centro Cultural Espanol 1490 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami. Tickets cost $5 for each play. Call 305-448-9677 or visit ccemiami.org.

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