Nilo Cruz is hot right now. From interviews in Playbill to Johnnie Walker ads, this prolific playwright is the man of the moment. And why not? His Pulitzer Prize winning opus Anna in the Tropics is being presented on Broadway while his other works appear across the country. So, it is a coup for me to review Beauty of the Father, the third Cruz world premiere at New Theatre in three years.
Rafael De Acha’s company has been in the spotlight since Cruz won America’s highest literary citation last year. Carrying themselves as a repertory ensemble, it is no surprise that De Acha has a constant stable that understands Cruz‘s language and is willing to share it with the rest of us.
Carlos Orizondo and Ursula Freundlich are two constants in the relationship between Nilo Cruz and New Theatre. Starting with 2001’s Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams, followed by last season’s aforementioned Anna, Orizondo and Freundlich also play pivotal parts in Beauty of the Father. Now add a telenovela star in the form of Roberto Escobar, mixed in with Cruz’s former professor and mentor Teresa Maria Rojas, and finish the recipe with a local up-and-comer named Euramis Losada, and we have a night of engaging and provocative theater.
In a small town of Spain, a sculptor namee Emiliano (Escobar) waits for his daughter Marina (Freundlich) to arrive. Coming off the heels of her mother’s death, Emiliano hasn’t seen Marina for years - ever since he left the family to come to the tranquility of the ocean. Keeping him company is a witty mistress Paquita (Rojas), a young Moroccan immigrant Karim (Losada) and as Emiliano’s devil’s advocate, the ghost of slain playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (Orizondo). Lorca appears to Emiliano as an apparition, enabling Emilano and telling him what to say and do.
Marina is attracted to Karim, but he is is married to Paquita (for residency reasons) who has deep affection for Emiliano that is not being reciprocated. What Marina doesn’t know, at first, is that Emiliano has also fallen for Karim. The reason this story doesn’t become a staged soap opera is because Cruz is not an ordinary writer. While waxing poetic, he doesn’t bog us down with melodrama. The words flow like water, just like the backdrop of this production. Thanks to the ensemble, Cruz’s voice is never ignored or even forced. All things seem to come in threes, and each character has the basic elements down: the want, the goal, and how to get there. In the three works of Cruz we have seen at New Theatre, three themes are always constant: possession, romance, and most of all, love.
Under Rafael De Acha’s direction, the actors are given license to choose their own journey to their characters' souls. Roberto Escobar creates Emiliano as a tortured artist, longing to reconnect with Marina while affected by his love for Karim. His body language might be overshadowed by his hunky chest, but Escobar never wavers in his commitment to make Emiliano believable. Ursula Freundlich (a New Theatre staple) commands just as much by her portrayal of Marina. Freundlich lets us know how much Marina was hurt by her father’s disappearance and shows off Marina’s willingness to forgive quite well.
Even though Paquita is the comic relief, Teresa Maria Rojas gives her a little depth to play with whenever Emiliano is around. She lets him know that whatever happens, she’ll be here for him. The weak link is Euramis Losada as Karim. Sporting what sounds like an attempt at an Indian accent, Losada seems to be going through the motions playing Karim too much as a little boy and not as the object of desire. He does get help through Freundlich when playing their intimate scenes. When Karim's intentions are revealed closer to the end of the play, Losada shows Karim’s true colors as a trickster naturally and effectively. Never stumbling through words, Losada finds his footing and confesses his true feelings for Escobar’s Emiliano.
Carlos Orizondo (another New Theatre staple) has the bigger challenge of bringing Lorca’s ghost to life on the stage. He proves he is up to the task by never upstaging his fellow colleagues. We are aware of his presence, but it never takes our eyes away from the drama that is being created on stage.
Also helping this production move along are the sounds of crashing waves and guitars, thanks in part to Ozzie Quintana’s sound design. Adrian Jones’ set is quaint, showing what sculptors do on the beach, while Travis Neff’s lighting is easy on the eyes but never harsh on the heart.
Constancy is the quality of being unchanging and dependable. Nilo Cruz knows this very well, and so does New Theatre. If Nilo Cruz remains constant on giving us literature to stand the test of time, let us hope that De Acha and company will constantly entertain us with engaging productions like Beauty of the Father for years to come.
Beauty of the Father plays in Coral Gables through February 15th. For tickets and performance information, call 305-443-5909 or visit www.New-Theatre.org.
NEW THEATRE - Beauty of the Father (World Premiere)
Scenic Design: Adrian W. Jones
Cast: Roberto Escobar*, Ursula Freundlich*, Carlos Orizondo*, Teresa Maria Rojas* and Euriamis Losada
*-denotes members of Actor's Equity Association
-- Kevin Johnson