Review: Top-drawer ‘Agüita de Viejas’ kicks off Hispanic theater festival


María Beatriz Vergara, left, and Juana Estrella in “Fragrances.” (Zero No Zero Teatro)
October 21, 2013

You thought airline security was a hassle? The feisty senior citizen named Miche has had a showdown with a body scanner — and she hasn’t even reached the airport. Her equally elderly friend, Tomasa, has persuaded Miche to do a rehearsal for a planned international trip: Leaning on her walker, Miche obediently trudges toward an imaginary boarding area, but Tomasa, pretending to be a body-scanning machine, emits a zapping sound and bars her friend’s progress with a cane.

Miche and Tomasa were the cantankerous protagonists of “Agüita de Viejas (Fragrances From the Past),” the Ecuadoran comedy that kicked off the 16th International Festival of Hispanic Theater in Arlington last weekend. Mounted, as the festival is every year, by Teatro de la Luna, the extravaganza runs through Nov. 24 with offerings from multiple Latin American countries, as well as the United States. (The festival includes two bilingual children’s productions; otherwise, the performances are in Spanish. For nearly all the adult performances, simultaneous English translation is provided via headset.)

In what could be a good omen for this year’s festival, the U.S. premiere of “Agüita de Viejas” (which ran through Sunday, presented by Zero No Zero Teatro) showcased top-drawer comic acting. Playwright and director Maria Beatriz Vergara played the physically frail but ambitious and spirited Miche — a character who was determined to travel to D.C. even though she could barely find the nearest chair. Juana Estrella radiated mischievous resourcefulness as Tomasa, dressed almost exactly like Miche in a blue housedress and slippers, with her head swathed in plastic. (The ladies were coloring their hair, we learned.)

The two characters spent their time bickering and planning, mostly encamped on either side of a shopping cart loaded with pill vials and other essentials. At one point, Tomasa cheerfully mixed a cocktail in a medical-drip bag hanging from the back of the cart. At another, she produced a canister of pesticide and tried siphoning that into her friend’s lungs, in lieu of the oxygen Miche needed for breathing troubles.

And in one of the production’s funnier sight gags, Miche managed to get herself stuck in a stooped position while dancing; using her cane like a bicycle pump, Tomasa pumped her buddy back to an upright posture.

Several other festival offerings also will spotlight female playwrights or characters. Some examples: Colombia’s La Barrera Teatro will present Piedad Bonnett’s “Gato por Liebre (Putting on Britches),” about a woman who assumes the identity of her dead husband. Representing Argentina, comic actress Liliana Pecora will interpret a piece titled “Mujeres de 60 (Women of 60).” Puerto Rico’s Producciones Raul Mendez will turn out with the dark comedy “Una Taza de Tépara una Mujer Casada (A Cup of Tea for a Married Lady).”

And spotlighting the theater of Uruguay will be two pieces, the play “El Pais de las Maravillas (Wonderland),” presented by Compañía Nidia Telles, and “Simplemente Petru,” featuring actor Petru Valenski.

Wren is a freelance writer.

Teatro de la Luna’s 16th International Festival of Hispanic Theater

Through Nov. 24. Productions for adults: single tickets, $30-$35; multi-show passes available. Most performances are at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. Visit www.teatrodelaluna.org, or call 703-548-3092 or 202-882-6227.

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