Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bilingual, Bicultural Moment at Bag&Baggage

Shelley B Shelley and Anthony Green

By Tina Arth

The Winter’s Tale is among the least-produced plays in the Shakespearean catalog, so I am sure my ignorance about this work put me among the opening night majority at Bag&Baggage’s world premiere of The Island in Winter or, La Isla en Invierno. The adaptation by Cuban-American student (and Hilhi alumnus) Carlos-Zenen Trujillo superbly captures the magic and heart of the original while bringing it squarely into the 21st century, with the author drawing on his own immigrant experience and expanding the story to encompass critical themes for our time in an accessible and charming tale.

While Trujillo’s adaptation encompasses many elements of Shakespeare’s original, the story is distinctly original. He retains some language from The Winter Tale, primarily as poetry, and the modern dialogue shifts fluidly between English and Spanish (with both English and Spanish surtitles projected as necessary). The story begins in the village of Santa Cecelia in post-revolutionary Cuba. Communist Party leader Leonte, consumed with unwarranted jealousy, drives childhood friend Polisteno back to his Miami home. In a classic kangaroo court, Leonte convicts and executes his wife Hermione, and orders his newborn daughter to be abandoned. From that point on, the story is full of typically unlikely Shakespearean plot devices – miraculous voyages, mistaken identity, love at first sight, comic relief from clown-like characters, orphans restored to their families and old friends reunited, all sprinkled with a touch of Santeria magic that brings the story to its poignant close.

Bag&Baggage founder Scott Palmer has just left Oregon for a new post in Idaho, and The Island in Winter is his last local directorial effort. His casting is flawless – with Assistant Director Yasmin Ruvalcaba, he has drawn an amazing, truly multicultural and bilingual team that does full justice to both Shakespeare’s original and Trujillo’s adaptation. Shelley B Shelley (Hermione) is an exquisite powerhouse who owns the stage whenever she appears, and captures her character’s fidelity and integrity with laser focus. Anthony Green’s Leonte, drunk on newfound power and tortured by jealousy, is the perfect counterpart – his emotional outbursts illustrate the fundamental weakness of an egotistical petty tyrant, and his ultimate shift to desperate repentance is equally believable.

Another quietly unforgettable performance comes from Yesenia Lopez’ “Paulina,” whose reactions to Leonte's erratic behavior illustrates the core power of a strong woman who refuses to be intimidated by male tyranny. Ricardo Vazquez delivers a complex Polisteno, and he nimbly shifts from carefree friend through the hurt of his unjust rejection, and from his Miami playboy persona to disillusioned drunk. Noel Alvarez Saname and Nicky Nicholson-Klingerman are able to quickly develop the essential infatuation that sets up the final scenes, and Nicholson-Klingerman’s “Perdida” is astonishingly believable as Hermione’s long-lost daughter – it is no stretch for the audience to understand why both Polisteno and Leonte recognize her immediately.

In a nice twist, the four clown-like characters are the show’s Anglos – Kymberli Colbourne and Peter Schuyler’s swamp dwellers and Arianne Jacques and Mandana Khoshnevisan’s Miami rich girls are hilarious parodies and provide several light touches in a sometimes dark tale.

Freila Merencio Blanco’s choreography and Melissa Heller’s vivid costuming are key to creating the show’s Afro-Cuban ambience. As with many shows in The Vault, set design is flexible and sometimes minimal, but Gabriel Costales’ lighting design and Lawrence Siulagi’s brilliant projection design create the necessarily lush environment; in particular, the rippling ocean waves are breathtaking.

Seating is limited by the set design for this must-see show – buy tickets soon or risk missing something really special. It’s hard to imagine a better farewell vehicle to honor Scott Palmer’s Bag&Baggage legacy.

The Island in Winter or, La Isla en Invierno is playing at The Vault, 350 E. Main Street, Hillsboro, through March 24th, with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and 2:00 p.m. Sunday matinees. 

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