How brave and how wonderfully moving this production of LA STRADA is. Based on the 1954 Academy Award winning film by Federico Fellini and presented by La Strada Company, under the artistic direction of Luis Carlos de La Lombana – the original sold out production which appeared last year at IATI Theater in the East Village is being revived at TBG Theater – 312 West 36 Street through December 4th. I urge you to see it – even if you do not speak Spanish.
There is a simultaneous English translation on a screen of this Spanish version of La Strada written by Gerard Vazquez – above the left side of the stage. But it is the excellent actors that convey all the emotions you’ll need to understand this purely theatrical presentation of the film.
It is imaginatively co-directed by Rene Buch and Jorge Merced. The bleak set, a single circular ring with a cinemascopic backdrop of sky (Jason Sturm), reminds us that we are at a circus in the middle of nowhere and then three clowns arrive – Hat (Winston Estevez), Coat (Maria Peyramaure) and Scarf (Israel Ruiz) to the music of a violin (Stephanie Davis), trumpet (Jennifer Harder) and kazoo, played live. The clowns must come up with a story or be fired.
It is Scarf – an amazingly agile and amusing Israel Ruiz who starts the proceedings in a too long mimed prologue telling the story of a pebble, a chain and a young girl. He later becomes The Fool – a high wire performer and the man who tries to comfort the forlorn Gelsomina (a sensitive and lovely Nanda Abella) the assistant of Zampano (the magnetic Luis Carlos de La Lombana – who holds his own against any comparisons to Anthony Quinn who portrayed Zampano in the Fellini/Pinelli/Flaiano film. He is magnificent as he performs his act of breaking the chain across his chest as the simple minded Gelsomina beats the drum as instructed and is brutally treated by this beast of a man.
This love triangle of sorts becomes tragic. And it is the strength of the actor’s abilities to convey this in another language that is so compelling and heartbreaking. This story of the young girl sold to Zampano by her mother after her sister died working for him. She falls in love with the man simply because he takes care of her and sometimes not in a very kind way. The Fool tried to help but to no avail.
What makes this production so magical is the use of mime, the simple use of the hands to convey doves, the black and white and gray color palette for the costumes (Kanako Hiyama), the on stage application of clown make-up, the kazoo and the toy trumpet.
The film had a magnificent score. The music used in this production by La Lombana and Caridad Martos will almost make you forget the original. One theme, used repeatedly, is haunting, melodic and heartbreaking adding to the overall longing and innocence in the eyes of the simple minded and lovely Gelsomina who meets a tragic ending. www.lastradacompany.com
NOTE: Mr. Ruiz received the HOLA Award for Outstanding Performance by a Featured Actor Oct 17, 2011 which is so well deserved as his performance is spectacular. Rene Buch & Jorge Merced received the HOLA for Outstanding Achievement in Direction.
On November 5th there will be a talk back after the 3PM performance – “Adapting Fellini to the Stage” which will include Mario Fratti – playwright of the musical NINE based on Fellini’s 8-1/2.
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