Imagine Nations

Just think: the country's largest Hispanic theater festival existing in a state that cuts major funding for the arts in one fell swoop. Seven countries, four continents, and multiple languages converging on South Florida for two weeks despite orange-level terror alerts, heightened airport security, and indecipherable visa applications. Indeed it appears that now more than ever, producing theater has become a quixotic endeavor. It's logical, then, that the eighteenth annual International Hispanic Theatre Festival will honor Spain's greatest playwright: Miguel De Cervantes, the man who dreamed up Don Quixote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, sending them on an inimitable journey rife with political satire, folly, and above all imagination.

The concept began this year when Mario Ernesto Sanchez, artistic director of Teatro Avante and of the festival, was invited to participate in a worldwide Internet reading of Cervantes's masterpiece Don Quixote in commemoration of the playwright's death on April 22, 1616 (a little over a week after Shakespeare's). "Teatro Avante wanted to pay homage to this masterpiece by creating our own adaptation of Don Quixote, but so much has been done, it had to be something special and unique to our company," Sanchez explains. Enter Cuban playwright Raquel Carrio and her former student, Cuban-born Lilliam Vega, who had already co-authored two critically acclaimed plays for Teatro Avante. Working with Cervantes's original text, the duo created (via e-mails from Miami to Cuba) their own adaptation, El Vuelo del Quijote (The Flight of Don Quixote), which incorporates music from Spain, a set designer from Arizona, a poem by José Martí, and allusions to a hot air balloon.

Sanchez then traveled to Chile, where he happened to see Lasenkan Theatre, a Japanese company, perform the original work Sancho Panza, inspired by Cervantes and written by Yoko Tawada. Besides witnessing an enigmatic multilingual tour de force (the play utilizes Spanish, Japanese, and German), Sanchez saw an opportunity to invite a Japanese company to the festival for the first time. Add the Spanish company Plural Multimedia y Ocio and its Defensa de Sancho Panza (written by Fernando Fernán Gómez, one of Spain's most well-known playwrights and actors), and a trilogy of Cervantes-influenced pieces is complete.

But that's just a portion of what the consistently ambitious and eclectic event has to offer. Eleven plays from seven countries -- Argentina, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, Spain, and the United States -- will be presented (non-Spanish speakers can enjoy six of the works via English supertitles), as well as discussions and workshops.

Miami-Dade Community College's Wolfson Campus's own Prometeo theater troupe will perform Felix Lizarraga's Matias y el Aviador, a tale for children of all ages inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince and the legendary adventurer Matias Perez, who while manning a hot-air balloon mysteriously disappeared from the Caribbean sky.

Whether through delusion or idealism, the International Hispanic Theatre Festival manages to keep itself grounded and continues to offer South Florida audiences eager for high-caliber theater a venerable annual event.