- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2001

Some of the best new dramatic performances in Spanish will be in town next week during the International Festival of Hispanic Theater.

The fourth edition of the festival returns Friday for more than one month of programming with 12 selections. The productions reflect the cultures of eight Latin American countries plus the United States and Spain, and include several of the leading stage artists of the Spanish-speaking world.

"All the plays are an accurate representation of the culture of each country," festival director Mario Marcel says. "Other criteria for the selection of the plays, such as commercialism, wasn't that important."

The stellar attraction is Spanish actor Santiago Sanchez, winner of the best interpretation prize at the Madrid Fall Theater Festival. Mr. Sanchez is the main character in the play "Chiquilladas" ("Kids' Stuff"), from French playwright Raymond Cousse (the author of "The Pig").

In the play, Mr. Sanchez becomes a tender child who struggles to find the meaning of life and death in a drama that tries to evoke adults' recollections of our own discoveries of the world.

The festival includes the performance of Pepe Vasquez, who recently won Uruguay's national Florencio Award for best actor. Mr. Vasquez's acting can be seen in the play "Esta Noche: Oscar Wilde" ("Tonight: Oscar Wilde"), by Jorge Denevi.

Other titles include Venezuela's entry, "El Ultimo Minotauro" ("The Last Minotaur"). Teatro de la Luna, the company that presents the festival, participates with the classic "Hansel and Gretel," a moral tale for children and adults.

According to Mr. Marcel, who also is in charge of Teatro de la Luna, "this is an open-doors theater. Anyone can act in here. We are about the only theater in the area offering something like that."

Mr. Marcel isn't a newcomer in the theater business — he has been around since 1983, when he arrived from Argentina to teach a seminar in Hispanic theater at the University of Maryland. When the seminar was over, he decided not to return to Argentina and accepted an acting job at the Washington area's other Hispanic theater, Gala.

"I worked there until I founded Teatro de la Luna, in 1991, as an attempt to respond to the demands of the growing Spanish-speaking community," he says.

Teatro de la Luna draws audiences of Latinos from South, Central and North America, as well as a growing English-speaking constituency (around 30 percent), Mr. Marcel says. The theater, in residence at the Gunston Arts Center, Theater Two, in Arlington, has produced more than 30 plays in 10 years, with an average of four productions per season. It also has established Spanish-speaking acting workshops for adults and children in area schools.

Festival performances are in Spanish with simultaneous interpretation in English via headphone.

This is the schedule:

Friday and Feb. 10: Teatro del Olmo, Spain. "Chiquilladas" ("Kids' Stuff"), by Raymond Cousse.

Feb. 13-14: Fingers and Thumbs, Paraguay. "Todo Lo Que No Sabe y Nunca Quiso Saber Sobre Shakespeare" ("Everything You Don't Know and Never Cared to Know About Shakespeare"), collective work.

Feb. 16-17: La Tribu Imaginaria, Chile. "El Dia del Juicio" ("Judgment Day"), by Andres del Bosque.

Feb. 20-24. Tico Titeres, Costa Rica. "Cocinando Suenos" ("Dream Concoctions") and "Hablemos en Silencio" ("Let's Speak in Silence"), by Fernando Thiel.

Feb. 23-24: Minotauro Teatro, Venezuela. "El Ultimo Minotauro" ("The Last Minotaur"), by Leon Febres Cordero.

Feb. 27-28: Grupo Cuatrotablas, Peru. "Usted Mato una Gaviota" ("You Murdered a Seagull"), collective work.

March 2-3: Teatro del Uruguay. "Esta Noche: Oscar Wilde" ("Tonight: Oscar Wilde"), by Jorge Denevi.

March 6-7: Vissepo Producciones, Puerto Rico. "Voces" ("Voices"), by Myrna Casas.

March 9-10: Grupo Los Teatreros, the Dominican Republic. "Chicken Cordon Blue," by Frank Disla.

March 13-14: Koldo Teatro, the Dominican Republic. "La Verdadera Historia del Descubrimiento de America" ("The True History of the Discovery of America"), by Juan Carlos Campos Sagaseta.

March 16-17: Teatro Surco, Costa Rica. "Hombres en Escabeche" ("Men in Marinade"), by Ana Istaru.

Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays at Gunston, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. Tickets cost $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Call 703/548-3092 or 202/882-6227.

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