How many globe-trotting romances are as painful as Amelia and Rodolfo’s? After an unfortunate incident in their native Argentina, the two lovers flee first to Europe, then to the Middle East, seeking to make their living as tango performers. But they can’t help squabbling, and Rodolfo believes Interpol is on their heels. It’s enough to make sights like the Sphinx and Eiffel Tower a gloomy proposition.
Unfortunately, the play that chronicles the couple’s travels — “Tango Turco (Turkish Tango)” by Argentinian playwright Rafael Bruza — isn’t a lot of fun either. The current Teatro de la Luna production features Marcela Ferlito, an actress who was bracingly funny in the company’s recent comedy “La Vida Que Me Das . . . y no me alcanza” (“Such a Life You’ve Given Me . . . and it’s not enough”). But Ferlito can’t rescue this low-energy “Tango Turco,” which is staged by Teatro artistic and executive director Mario Marcel and billed as a U.S. premiere. (It is performed in Spanish with English surtitles.)
Part of the problem may be the script’s episodic nature: Short scenes relay glimpses of Amelia (Ferlito) and Rodolfo (Alfredo Sanchez) in different countries, as the pair quarrel, worry, and get to know Yassuf (Jerry Daniel), the guitarist they hired in Seville to be their accompanist. (They had sought a player of the bandoneon, the accordion-like instrument that is a staple of tango music, but bandoneonists were in short supply in Spain.) The frequent scene breaks prevent the production from working up much momentum. With photographic slides of international sites and attractions (the Sphinx, etc.) projected onto a screen at the back of the set (the scenery is otherwise dominated by chairs and tables), it’s almost as if the play were communicating by postcard.
The scene breaks, and the gaps in narrative time between the scenes, also contrive to distance us from the characters. The most interesting of these is Amelia, who can be animated and funny — when she’s bickering with or coolly snubbing Rodolfo, for instance — but who displays some soulfulness in a long monologue about love. (Amelia’s outfits, including a little black dress and auburn shrug, seem the right choices for this capable femme-fatale character.
Sanchez exudes some excitability, paranoia and moroseness as Rodolfo — a none-too-pleasant fellow who enjoys making fun of Yassuf for not knowing Spanish and not being of European heritage. (Yassuf hails from Lebanon, but Rodolfo insists on calling him a “Turk”; hence the play’s title.) As Yassuf, Daniel looks a little more awkward onstage than seems necessary for purposes of characterization.
Would that Yassuf would really break out into some fluent guitar music now and then! He doesn’t. Such a detail might make this “Tango Turco” a little more melodious.
Wren is a freelance writer.
By Rafael Bruza. Direction and set and sound design by Mario Marcel; lighting design, Brian S. Allard; assistant director, Paolo Gonzalez. About 1 hour and 45 minutes. In Spanish with English surtitles (English translation, David Bradley, and Rei Berroa’s students at George Mason University). Tickets: $15-$35. Through May 18 at Gunston Arts Center, Theater Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. Visit www.teatrodelaluna.org
or call 703-548-3092.