Teatro de la Luna's Hot Hot Hot Nights
By Tricia Olszewski
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, February 14, 2004; Page C01
Last weekend at Arlington's Gunston Arts Center, performer Angela Meyer sang a few songs, told a few stories, and generally worked the room like a seasoned Vegas lounge act.
Meyer plays three characters in "Tres Noches Tropicales y Una Vida de Infierno" ("Three Tropical Nights and a Hellish Life"), the one-woman show that opened Teatro de la Luna's seventh annual International Festival of Hispanic Theater.
Every Friday and Saturday through March 13, the company is presenting works from various Spanish-speaking countries.
The theme of this year's festival is "Theater for the People," and if its first crowd-pleasing offering is any indication, the motif is apt. "Tres Noches Tropicales," written and directed by Puerto Rican dramatist (and honorary festival president) Myrna Casas, offers a slice out of the lives of Raquelita, a well-baubled Cuban housewife; Yaya, a trashy "masseuse"; and Gloria, a hopelessly drunk tarot-card reader.
Each character is outfitted brightly, but the dominant shade of the show is blue. "Tres Noches Tropicales" frequently crosses into NC-17 territory as the women talk about casual sex, infidelity and rentable favors. The setting is a Puerto Rican club where Raquelita has come to hear "Angela Meyer" speak, because Angela "knows about keeping peace between the sexes." When an announcement is made that Ms. Meyer has canceled her appearance, the tastefully appointed Raquelita conspiratorially launches into her own life story, rife with bad sex, rich husbands and a young girl she refers to as "that little [expletive]."
When Raquelita has to go, Yaya shows up, also hoping to get advice from Ms. Meyer -- though she expects to learn "about sex and how to do it better." Meyer-the-performer is now recognizable only by her gravelly voice as she adopts the cocky, loose-limbed physicality of a fast-talking hooker who can switch gears from chatty to seductive in an instant, repeatedly punctuating her shtick with "Oh my gawd." Gloria, who subsequently shows up looking for Yaya but at this point would be happy just to find a bathroom, is also sharply drawn.
Meyer's Gloria stumbles onto the stage, slurs as she leads the audience in singalongs and runs her hands over tired eyes and mussed hair with the perfect imprecision of the inebriated.
Casas's script -- in Spanish with English translation available via headset -- leaves plenty of room for improvisation, which Meyer skillfully uses. The short work is stretched to nearly two hours as Meyer's characters interact with audience members -- offering a gentleman her services as Yaya, for example, or a swig out of her purse-size liquor bottle as Gloria. The audience's English speakers, however, may have felt shortchanged, as Meyer's apparently hilarious off-the-cuff remarks often went untranslated.
Though it's too late to catch Meyer's stellar performance, up next in the festival is "Polacos" ("The Polish"), an absurdist comedy from Barcelona that's being staged through tonight. Also on the roster for the coming weeks are "La Calle de la Gran Ocasion" ("The Street of Last Chances"), a "realistic comedy" from Costa Rica; "America," a light satire from Madrid; "Rifar el Corazon" ("Heartstrings"), a black comedy from Uruguay; and "Perejiles" (the English title is "Chameleons"), a musical comedy from Argentina.
Teatro de la Luna describes most of these shows as appropriate for ages 16 and older, but the festival is offering a bit of family fare, too: On Saturday mornings, the Instituto de Mexico will host two pieces of children's theater, "Don Anacleto Avaro" ("Don Anacleto the Miser") and "La Caja de Sorpresas" ("The Box of Surprises"). These performances will be offered without English translation.
VII International Festival of Hispanic Theater, at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington, through March 13. Visit www.teatrodelaluna.org for more information.