Saturday, February 2, 2002

Arlington, Va.’s Teatro de la Luna is offering audiences a taste of Latin American theater in a festival that begins Wednesday.

The company presents the Fifth International Festival of Hispanic Theater through March 16 at Theater on the Run in Arlington, with some performances at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Northwest D.C. The festival features productions from Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Uruguay and the United States. The plays are designed to appeal to Spanish and English audiences of all ages.

“Theater, in a way, is the most important and direct medium for the people,” says Mario Marcel, Teatro de la Luna’s artistic director. “We do free simultaneous interpretations into English for the adult shows.”

Mr. Marcel says the Washington area has grown in Hispanic ethnicity and that bridging cultures is important. Born in Buenos Aires, Mr. Marcel started working in theater at age 8. Since then, he has been acting, directing and teaching. He moved to the United States about 18 years ago for political reasons.

His goal has been to find a variety of productions from Central and South America to feature in the festival. For nine months, he traveled and contacted theater companies in different countries. He reviewed scripts and videos from about 50 prospective theaters. Programs had to fit the theme of the event, “In Search of Our Theatrical Identity.”

“I’m excited about El Salvador’s production because of the mysticism and rituals of the play and the folk tales of the country,” he says. The Salvadoran production, scheduled Feb. 22 and Feb. 23, is called “El Senor del Ensueno/Lord of Enchantment.”

The Chilean production, he says, has an actor “that specializes in ‘clown acting,’ a form of acting dealing with improvisation. He doesn’t stick to a script. He is youth oriented.”

Called “El Loco en la Academia/The Fool in the Academy,” it is scheduled March 1 and March 2.

Mr. Marcel says that theater doesn’t directly relate to politics in the countries but that the arts always reflect culture in some way.

“Argentina is doing a show about tango,” he says. “Tango is about love and what’s going on in your heart and what’s going on in the country. If you really listen to the language of each play, it’s all underneath the words.”

“Tango, Ese Loco Espejismo/ Tango, That Passionate Feeling” is set for March 15 and March 16.

The dialects of Spanish from the countries involved will become apparent to audience members, Mr. Marcel says. He says residents of each country speak with slight differences.

“When you hear it, your ear can tell,” he says. “If you come and see a show from Puerto Rico and then one from Argentina, it’s a big difference. Puerto Rico skips their R’s. They turn them into L’s. They don’t pronounce S. People from Chile say ‘ch’ like an ‘sh.’”

Musical theater is rare in Latin American countries, Mr. Marcel says.

“Unlike American theater, there aren’t big theaters that only do musical theater,” he says. “It’s very much European. They rely on their Spanish authors like Federico Garcia Lorca or Latin American authors from each country.”

Other productions in the festival include “Otro Maldito Amor/Another Damn Love,” Puerto Rico, Friday and next Saturday; “Moliere, Por Ella Misma/Moliere, by Herself,” Mexico, Feb. 15 and 16; “La Dama de las Camelias Parte Atras/The Lady of the Camellias Backside,” Dominican Republican, March 5 and 6; and “El Ejecutor/The Executor,” Uruguay, March 8 and 9.

Nucky Walder, the producer of the festival and wife of Mr. Marcel, says local actors appear in the children’s plays produced by Teatro de la Luna. The company is featuring “Las Adventuras de Pinocho/The Adventures of Pinocchio” (Feb. 9 and 16) and “La Caja de Sorpresas, The Box of Surprises” (Feb. 23 and March 2). These performances are free for children age 12 and younger and are in Spanish only. Festival events also will include pantomime and mime workshops.

“It’s a need in the community to have theater in Spanish for children,” she says. “The kids are tied to their televisions. They don’t have any other place to go to see theater in Spanish. I love to do this.”

Miss Walder says she plans to hold special performances of the children’s theater for some area schools in Theater on the Run. “La Fiesta de los Locos/The Fools’ Fiesta” also is scheduled to appear during regular school hours Feb. 27 and 28 at Lincoln Middle School in Columbia Heights. La Tribu Imaginaria, a company from Chile, plans to perform that production.

“This will give [the students] the opportunity to see something from another country in Spanish,” she says. “It’s a gift for them.”

Miss Walder says seeing the performances from the different countries reminds her of the places she has visited. She worked as an actress for many years in Latin America. She met Mr. Marcel in 1981 when he traveled to Paraguay to direct a play. At the time, Miss Walder was working as an actress for Tiempovillo, a theater company.

“It’s like a re-encounter,” she says. “It’s good to embrace new people and old friends. It’s so great to have first-quality productions.”

For more information, call Teatro de la Luna at 202/882-6227 or 703/548-3092 or check the Web site

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