El Malentendido Gets Existential at the Arsht

El Malentendido, the International Hispanic Theatre Festival's Spanish-language version of Albert Camus's dipped-in-irony-titled play The Misunderstanding, opened last night at the Arsht Center. 

The production, translated into Spanish and directed by Mario Ernesto Sanchez, is awash in melodrama and overwrought performances. But that's a good thing. 

Led by the electric Neher Jacqueline Brinceno as Marta and Isabel Moreno as Mother, El Malentendido is a play that delves deeply and intellectually into themes such as ethical conflicts, moral ambiguity, fate as nothingness, and the condition of the human existence. In other words, it's totally an Albert Camus play.

El Malentendido tells the story of Pedro (Julio Rodriguez), a middle-aged man who decides to return home to his younger sister and widowed mother after having been living oversees for decades. He essentially abandoned them as a young man and so, much to the chagrin of his doting wife (Zaida Castellanos), packs a bag and flies to find them and maybe mend some fences.

Unbeknownst to Pedro, however, is the fact that his sister and mother are now making their living taking in lodgers and then rubbing them out for their cash and valuables.

As is typical of anything by Camus, the play is wrought with characters finding themselves in situations that philosophizes human plight as brought upon by absurd providence. 

Each character finds themselves in an ideological dilemma, and the possibility of redemption and comeuppance is eliminated because, well, mankind is weak-willed and we're all screwed anyway. There are some dark moments in the story, particularly with the iniquitous murderous sister, Marta. But fate, Camus wants you to know, is the real villain here.

The play moves as one would expect a Camus play to move: Languid, dawdling, and drenched in philosophical meanderings about life, ideology, and the meaning of nothingness. But the play leaves you thinking about Pedro and his family's plight. And the dark humor that sometimes pops up is something of a guilty pleasure. 

The intricate set design by Jorge Noa and Pedro Balmaseda turns out to be quite versatile in the one-act play, while the original score by Mike Porcel gives the play its scornful mood. 

Probably more than any other play at this year's festival, El Malentendido's main character are its words, and the Arsht provides an LCD screen with English supertitles above the stage as the play is acted out entirely in Spanish.

It's finely acted, and oftentimes a tad slow, but El Malentendido is a play that delves into existential matters which, at the end of the day, is not something you see often in theatre productions.

El Malentendido will play again tonight and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center (1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami). Tickets range from $24 - $29. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.

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