Project eÑe, a new bilingual theater program supported by Area Stage Company, presents notable works by Spanish playwrights in both English and Spanish. Unlike other similar programs, the plays are not performed in Spanish with English superscript, but rather presented in each language individually as separate performances.
We attended the English world premiere of the play Three Good Men (Tres Hombres de Bien), Project eÑe's first production, at Area Stage, and discovered that as wonderful an idea as this is in theory, its execution is lacking... so far, at least. But that's not to say the productions can't improve with time.
Three Good Men is a philosophical play as much as it is a thesis about morality. The lives of an idealistic yet poor journalist, a respected physician, a politico, and the mother of a child killed by a drunk driver become entwined in what essentially boils down to a debate over the "greatest happiness principle" -- is it okay to withhold justice and happiness for the minority if it means happiness of the majority?
These are poignant and relevant themes, but, in the English performances at least, they're somewhat lost in translation. There are only so many Salma Hayeks, Antonio Banderases, and Penelope Cruzes in the world. A phenomenal Spanish-speaking actor may not be able to carry off the performance in English. Area Stage should reassess its strategy of having the same actors in both plays, or perhaps it should cast each play with a focus on actors who turn in solid performances in both Spanish and English. Since Project eÑe is a bilingual theater program, perhaps it should cast truly bilingual actors, and not just actors with a rudimentary grasp of one language and a superb handle on the other.
This glaring dichotomy was never more evident than when Laura Ferretti was on stage. Playing a distraught mother with over-the-top gravitas, her accent was so thick and pronunciation so off that at least one third of her dialogue was lost on the audience.
Unfortunately, delivering unintelligible lines was the least of her problems. As the mother of a child who was killed by a drunk driver, Ferretti should serve as the anchor of this play; instead, she bursts in and out of scenes, a self-righteous gleam in her eye, leaving behind the need for Excedrin. Possibly more melodramatic than the main character of a telenovela, her entire performance reeked of artifice. Her hysterics and tears rang false; her character was grating rather than sympathetic.
Language wasn't an issue with other actors, such as Jorge Hernandez, who played the judge, and Roberto San Martin, the idealistic journalist. Fortunately, we could understand their lines, but it was obvious that they were struggling with the roles. Lines were delivered in an exaggerated fashion, almost as if the characters were caricatures and not real people.
The two actors who didn't suffer from this disconnect were Alexa Kuve, who played San Martin's unsatisfied wife, and Osvaldo Strongoli, in the role of a respected doctor. Both delivered their lines naturally, lending authenticity to their roles.
What goes to waste here, unfortunately, is the play itself. For a bilingual audience member, it is clear that the Spanish version would be superior. It seems a shame that one would miss the impact of Israeli-Argentinian playwright Andrea Bauab's original words.
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The original play relies more on showing than telling. In the English version, motivations are spelled out and twists are seen from a mile away. Characters are constantly explaining what they're thinking and feeling and why, as if Three Good Men were being performed in front of 6-year-olds who are unable to understand the complexities of language or a well-timed pause.
Still, with improved trust in its audiences and better casting, we see good things to come for Area Stage's ambitious and noble endeavor, Project eÑe. It can only get better from here on out.
Three Good Men at the Area Stage Theater (1560 S. Dixie Highway, Coral Gables). Ticket prices and showtimes vary. Call 305-666-2078 or visit areastagecompany.com.