SHOWING : April 14, 2011 - March 03, 2011
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Although Barrio Hollywood received several acclaimed performances in cities like Tucson, Dallas and Portland, Aurora Theatre’s production marks the world premiere of the Spanish language version. In the play Alex Moreno, a Mexican-American boxer, dreams of fighting his way out of poverty. When Alex is injured, the Moreno's dreams are deferred in this gritty drama about bi-racial romance, family loyalty and the true pursuit of happiness. Barrio Hollywood will be presented in Spanish with English supertitles. For native speakers, it will be a rare opportunity to enjoy a live professional play in Spanish. For those who do not speak the language, they can follow along with supertitles, just like when attending a foreign film. A detailed synopsis will also be offered for those patrons who wish to read the story beforehand
Barrio Hollywood will be performed in Spanish with English super titles
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Thursday, May 5, 2011 ||
On paper, it’s a wonderful idea. Aurora’s artistic director Anthony Rodriguez is reaching out to the area’s Hispanic community (not to mention reaching in to his own cultural roots) to produce a play by a writer with “an authentic Latino voice” performed entirely in Spanish. Of course, since my knowledge of Spanish is extremely limited, I’d have to rely on English supertitles, but that’s never been an issue with me. So, onward to “Barrio Hollywood,” a poetic exploration of love and lying by Elaine Romero in which the family of a comatose boxer struggle with memory and grief.|
Of course, it must be said as a bias disclaimer that I have a neurotically severe aversion to boxing in general (I’m one of the few film fanatics who still think “Raging Bull” is overrated and “When We Were Kings” is downright awful). That being said, the boxing in this production is limited to some lyrically choreographed behind-the-scrim sequences that involve no opponent, hence no actual physical contact, so, again, this wasn’t an issue this time.
In fact, there is a lot to appreciate about this play and production, and, I really suspect my reservations fall under the “lost in translation” issues that sometimes surface when watching productions performed in an unfamiliar language.
Since, I generally liked the show, let me get the reservations part out of the way first. To begin with the most obvious (at least to a non-Spanish speaker), the idea of using different-colored supertitles for the different characters falls under the “clever-not-smart” category. My assumption was that the device was used to clearly delineate who was saying what. Unfortunately, the red and green fonts used for two of the characters proved almost entirely unreadable to my (admittedly) weak eyesight, so a lot of the play passed right over my comprehension center. It’s to the playwright’s credit (and to the cast’s) that context filled in many of the gaps for me.
Interestingly enough, this play was written originally in English and later translated into Spanish. I’m not sure if the supertitles reflected Ms. Romero’s original dialog, of they were a translation of the translation. I did find much of the English fell into sweetly poetic rhythms, and contained the sort of lyrical imagery promised in Mr. Rodriguez’ notes. But the sound of the Spanish did not sound as evocative (at least to my non-comprehending ears). Was this quality lost in translation, or are my ears deaf to the auditory nuances of the language? I actually suspect the latter, but I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of those who do understand the language.
To recap the plot (for those of you who are still with me), the Morenos are an Hispanic family living in the “Barrio Hollywood” section of Tucson. On Cinco de Mayo, Alex Moreno crosses the border to participate in an illegal boxing match, where he suffers a traumatic brain injury. He is returned to Tucson, where he must be cared for by his sister Graciela(*) and his mother Amá. Throw into the mix an American doctor (Michael) who is falling in love with Graciela, Graciela’s love of ballet folklórico dance, and a suspicious death, and the set-up for melodramatic recriminations is complete.
I really liked how dance proved integral to this story (and kudos to Ricardo Aponte for his usual fine choreography), particularly one early sequence in which the three Morenos “swap” styles (Alex’s boxing steps and Amá’s ritualistic candle-lighting movements eerily synched with Graciela’s folklórico rhythms). I liked how flashback (and dream) sequences developed the relationship between Alex and Graciela. And I really liked how the burgeoning relationship between Graciela and Michael builds to its sweetly poetic climax.
Of course, I am singularly unqualified to judge the performances. Through my ignorance, I did feel Maria Sager’s Graciela was a bit more abrasive, as if she were projecting in a larger venue, but, again, there seemed to be subtleties there that were lost in translation. Joey Florez Jr (Alex), Sylvia Castro (Amá) and Alexandros Salazar (Michael) all gave wide-ranging performances that came through the language clearly and completely. I would be interested to know if Mr. Salazar’s Spanish came across as if it were from a non-native speaker (as is commented on) since that’s a subtlety I’d never be able to hear – to me, he sounded as fluent as the Morenos.
Britt Ramroop’s set is simple, though it seemed to require a few change sequences that were longer than their effect seemed to warrant, and James Helms’ lighting, while evocative and simple, also occasionally “washed out” the supertitles. Still, the production as a whole gelled completely for me, and Mr. Rodriguez’ direction keeps the action moving quickly. I hope this production is successful enough to warrant future excursions into Hispanic plays and stories.
In spite of his comatose state, this play takes us into the life (and family) of Alex Moreno, and it was a trip I was happy to take. To close with an entirely appropriate García Lorca verse:
But now he sleeps without end.
Now the moss and the grass
open with sure fingers
the flower of his skull.
And now his blood comes out singing;
singing along marshes and meadows,
sliden on frozen horns,
faltering soul in the mist
stumbling over a thousand hoofs
like a long, dark, sad tongue,
to form a pool of agony.
-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com)
(*) The cast list spells her name “Graciella” but everywhere else in the program, it’s spelled “Graciela.” Foolish consistency!
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by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics)