Spanish Word Plays

In the garden of his home in Lisbon during the Renaissance, a well-to-do elderly man talks to a young girl about life, love, and death. Three women share their day-to-day experiences and dream of better times. Another woman narrates how she did what she could to get by.

These and other stories will come alive onstage during the fourteenth International Hispanic Theatre Festival. The fourteen-play event lights up stages in Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables June 4 through June 20. "It's the only international Hispanic theater festival in the nation," says Mario Ernesto Sanchez, founder, president, and producing artistic director of Teatro Avante and its theater festival.

Since 1989 thespians from around the globe have been invited. This year theater companies from Argentina, Spain, Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Venezuela, Portugal, and the United States have been selected to act out the dramas of the Spanish-speaking world. "We used to have to beg companies to come," says Sanchez. "Now we get a proposal every week from the world's best theater companies."

Although the fest features one English-language presentation and another in Portuguese, most plays will be performed in Spanish. Mimes will cavort during a Colombian street-theater production on Lincoln Road Mall, and in El Si de las Ninas deaf actors will communicate using sign language.

The English-language play, Sleepwalkers, explores a family's struggle to stay together in communist Cuba while trying to make sense of their world. "It's about people who are survivors," says John Rodaz, the play's director and founder of Area Stage, which is participating in the fest for the first time this year. In the dreamlike drama 21-year-old Tito, a dissident, and his father, an Angolan war veteran, are torn apart by their ideological differences. Tension also occurs between Tito and his twelve-year-old sister Pionera (the name is also the word for the Cuban Marxist version of a girl scout).

According to Sanchez the festival's primary objective is to expose non-Spanish speakers to the Hispanic culture through the universal medium of theater. Aside from attending plays, adults can take part in after-performance discussions and educational symposiums featuring directors, playwrights, and critics from all over the world. In 1990 the festival added children's theater to its program of events. This year, in honor of International Children's Day, kids can actively participate in the making of a play. Clown Quijote de la Mancha, presented by Madrid's Teatro Uroc, is a child-friendly version of the Cervantes masterpiece Don Quixote. Five clowns and a director involve the underage audience in all aspects of production during this free event.

Founded in 1984, Teatro Avante's International Hispanic Theatre Festival was originally called Acting Together. It started as a local event that presented plays in Spanish. In 1987 two English-language plays incorporating Hispanic themes made their debut. Two years later the festival grew to encompass international theater troupes. Since then theater companies from as far away as the Ukraine have been asked to participate.

Planning for the festival is a yearlong affair, so when the curtains drop on the last performance and the actors take one final bow, Sanchez rejoices. "For me the highlight is when I can finally go to sleep, but then when I wake up I'm ready to do it all over again."

-- Lissette Corsa

The International Hispanic Theatre Festival takes place Friday, June 4, through Sunday, June 20, at various locations in Miami, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables. Ticket prices vary and some events are free. Call 305-445-8877 or see "Theater Listings," page 70, for details.

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Lissette Corsa