‘The Young Lady from Tacna’/ ‘La Señorita de Tacna’
Through March 9
Gala Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, N.W., Columbia Heights
“The Young Lady from Tacna” is a play about creating stories. It’s also about memory, family and mystery-shrouded romance.
Ingeniously constructed by Peru’s Noble laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, the action follows a writer in search of a love story as he moves from his present to a place of memories to an even more distanced place, mostly imagined.
Seldom done in Washington, this poignant yet humorous work (performed in Spanish with English surtitles) is currently playing at GALA Hispanic Theatre in a superb production, adroitly staged by director José Carrasquillo,
Tucked away in his cluttered study (anywhere in the world, 1980), middle-aged writer Belisario struggles to make literature out of the failed great passion of Mamaé, his long-deceased great aunt who died a 100-year-old spinster. He wonders why as a young woman she abruptly ended her engagement to a dashing Chilean officer, opting instead to live her life as a poor but loved relation, dependent on her cousin Carmen’s family for the remainder of her long life. It’s a secret she never revealed.
In his struggle to recreate his aunt’s romance, Belisario relies on memories, time traveling from his study to his grandparents’ house in Lima circa 1950 where Mamaé, despite having already slipped into a screeching dementia, remains a strong force. The once-well off family’s resources are steadily diminishing and Belisario’s mother Amelia is caring for both Mamaé and her elderly parents. In exchange her brother pays her son’s law school tuition — a legal career for Belisario is her dream not his. It won’t happen.
The writer imagines his aunt young again. She springs from her rocking chair; tosses aside the lacey shawl. He sees his aunt with her avid suitor, relieving excitement and disappointment. He creates tales surrounding her cancelled nuptials including a meeting with her betrothed’s formidable mistress and builds stories from fragmented memories like her alleged attachment to an ivory fan and her preference to attend Mass at a modest church in a nearby slum.
Numerous quick changes in time and place are graceful and entirely lucid thanks mostly to talented gay director Carrasquillo. His staging is impeccable. He also elicits memorable performances from an able cast.
Carlos Castillo is terrific as Belisario. A graying and disheveled character is a departure for out actor Castillo who typically plays younger parts. But he gives a nuanced performance — some of his best work to date. As Mamaé, Luz Nicolás is a marvel, seamlessly changing from ancient termagant to proud ingénue and back again. Marian Licha’s Carmen is sure of her place in the world, exuding confidence and kindness. As her husband Pedro, the reliably excellent Hugo Medrano subtly demonstrates the lighter side of decline. His character is slipping into a gentler, sometimes amusing dotage.
Andrea Aranguren is wonderfully versatile as both the other woman and Belisario’s mother. Tim Pabon and Oscar Ceville are respectively convincing as Amelia’s brothers — the harried, responsible Agustin and the passionate but broke Cesar. The playwright creates (and the three players execute) the dynamic of caretaker siblings to the tee. And Victor Maldonado capably adds dimension to the role of the Disney prince-handsome officer.
Giorgos Tsappas’ sloped diagonal set provides a journey for memories turned into tales over times. At the top of the incline sits Mamaé’s rocking chair next to a large bare window. At the opposite lower end is Belisario’s cramped writing space. The back opens to the white trunks of Chekhovian Aspen trees evocatively lit by lighting designer Cory Ryan Frank.
The GALA production is a beautifully rendered take on a somewhat difficult play.