Friday, October 2, 2009

CHAMACO de Abel González Melo.

Orlando Casín and Adrian Más at the Teatro Trail Theater in Coral Gables.


Review | 'Chamaco' resonates

An empty park, a dead body, a pool of blood. Cuban playwright Abel González Melo's Chamaco may sound like a murder mystery, but the play, currently on stage at Teatro Trail in Coral Gables, is more of a moral interrogation than a whodunit. In the wee hours of a cold Havana morning, a young man, Miguel Depás (Lian Cenzano) is murdered. The play revolves around the Depás family: Miguel, his father Alejandro (Juan David Ferrer) and sister Silvia (Alexa Kuve), and each family member's fateful interaction with the deceptive Kárel Darín (Adrián Más). A co-production of La Má Teodora, Latin Quarter Cultural Center, and the University of Miami's Cuban Theater Archives, this U.S. debut marks the return of director Alberto Sarraín to South Florida's stages after a seven-year hiatus.

For many reasons Chamaco could be called ``cinematic'' -- and, in fact, a film version was created in 2008. The play's multiple locales, narrative flashbacks and vivid fight scenes lend themselves to the screen, but in this production, director Alberto Sarraín underscores his passion for the stage. Likewise, the cast, whose résumés reveal ample television and film experience, infuse their performances with a spontaneity and physicality unique to the stage.

One of the most ingenious aspects of the direction is the use of flashbacks. In one scene, Alejandro recalls an argument with his son Miguel. As this flashback unfolds, Kárel enters. He slouches in the corner, then sits at the table between father and son. In literature or film such a violation of convention would relegate Kárel to a ghost figure, but on stage it works as a suggestion with rich implications. Kárel is an invisible arbiter, he's a pesky trickster -- and he is ghostlike without becoming a phantasm.

Adrián Más' magnetism lies in his bewitching duality. His amorality stems from innocence, not corruption. Even while he is hustling and lying, he possesses a childlike vulnerability and innocence.

At its heart Chamaco is about things unsaid (desire between men, familial rancor, the despair poverty provokes) and Alejandro Depás embodies this more than any other character. Juan David Ferrer uses his entire body -- posture, gesture, facial expressions -- to represent the repressed Alejandro without becoming static. Ferrer also has the impressive ability to utilize silence as powerfully as words, and the result is a nuanced, moving performance.

Carlos Repilado's inspired set design handles the play's multiple settings with sleek simplicity. The Depás and Darín residences exist behind wooden blinds that the actors open and close as the scenes change.

The characters in Chamaco do despicable things, but they aren't despicable people. Still, we can never fully forgive them. Desire and destruction remain in a rapturous and asphyxiating embrace until the end.

Cinema and theater often can't resist softening this hard, inconclusive look at reality and humanity, but González Melo, Sarraín and this extraordinary cast's refusal to do so charge Chamaco with an energy and depth that resonates well beyond curtain call.

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