By James V. Ruocco
To articulate the voices of Adriana and Sarah, the two central characters of Christine Quintana's quick-witted, personal and very talky play "Espejos: Clean," the playwright has chosen to interpret her work in both Spanish and English.
It's a bilingual concept - interesting, flawed, distracting or fascinating - completely dependent on the savvy, confused, pleasurable or annoying mindset of the theatergoer who is asked to spend nearly two hours reading, reading and reading lots of translated dialogue while trying to connect the dots, follow the ongoing story and watch the onstage action at the very same time.
I had no problem with it at all simply because growing up as a youngster under ten, and later, my parents took me to foreign films where French, Italian, Spanish, German and Swedish motion pictures were shown with English subtitles.
"Dubbing," to quote my mom and dad "was a no-no." In their eyes, if a film was presented in its actual language, to "dub it in English was an insult to the actor, the director, the material and the audience."
That same theory is the driving force that keeps Hartford Stage's presentation of "Espejos: Clean" on its toes, so to speak.
Here, the important and detailed words of the intertwined monologues created by Quintana are projected seamlessly via subtitles above the stage as each of the actresses speaks.
Adriana's Spanish-speaking dialogue is lensed entirely in English. Sarah's English verbiage is showcased in Spanish.
But be forewarned.
To fully enjoy the play, you can't for a moment, lose your train of thought.
Yes, there's a lot to read.
Yes, there's a lot to absorb.
Yes, this isn't the supertitles format of abbreviation found at the Metropolitan Opera House.
At Hartford Stage, the action - played out against the backdrop of Mariana Sanchez's stunning, atmospheric set (a resort in Cancun) - is continuous as the two women proudly and openly step forth to share their feelings, their secrets, their thoughts and their anxieties separately or in scenes where they are asked to perform together.
Therefore, paying attention is mandatory.
As theater, "Espejos: Clean " engrosses, stimulates, jolts, amuses and excites.
It's a crafty theatrical endeavor that Quintana builds with apt back story, shaping, masking, reflection and invention.
Plotwise, Adriana commandeers the cleaning/housekeeping staff at the Cancun-based hotel. Sarah, in turn, is a Canadian tourist who has come to Mexico as the maid-of-honor at her younger sister's wedding.
The mirrors of their lives (the "espejos" of the play's title) are projected and defined with heady collision, confidence and examination by Quintana. The combustion she seeks is echoed with tiff, precise bounds and bursts that contribute greatly to her telling and add important shading, wit, drama and character to the many monologues she creates for both Adriana and Sarah. A little tweaking here and there, especially near the end of Act I, could remedy a few dull and rough spots, but in the long run, it's hardly unsettling or damaging to the story at hand.
Staging "Espejos: Clean," director Melissa Crespo comes to the project prepared, ready and able to dig deep into Quintano's bilingual character portrait. As the character's speak, there's plenty of emotional footing in their individual interpretations fueled by elevated storyboard instinct, flourish, identity, conflict and engagement. Even when some of the dialogue is not up to par, Crespo plunges forward, backed by crisp, detailed staging and blocking maneuvers, many of which are visually enlightened and supported by Lisa Renkel's choice, colorfully designed, strategically placed and positioned, eye-popping projections.
Here, fluidity is key to how the play works and unfolds before a live before a live audience while utilizing dialogue in two different languages without any hiccups or halts in the proceedings. Cresco, in turn, creates a playing ground that is full of movement, detail and invigoration. It's all procured with real-time thrust, balance and efficiency that naturally complements the action, the story arcs, the complex shifts in time and place and the behavioral changes of the characters themselves.
"Espejos: Clean" stars Emma Ramos as Adriana and Kate Abbruzzese as Sarah.
Well-chosen for their respective roles, both actresses deftly portray the intertwined stories of two women from different cultures with confidence, control, influence and absorption. The demands are great as there is a lot going on, both in Spanish and in English.
Nonetheless, the clarity of thought, memory and commanding skill they bring to the work allows the audience to get inside their heads and follow their stories with inspired enthusiasm, journey and eavesdropping fascination.
Full of potential, melodrama, love and affection, "Espejos: Clean" is an important work of theatre, framed by two great performances, distinct direction and bilingual dialogue with abundant waves of bite, investment, shout and intrigue.
To full appreciate it, however, grab on tight to the play's subtitles, don't blink and read fast - very fast.
Es una solicitud simple y una en la que necesita ser relajada.