Editors' pick

Rifar el Corazon (Heartstrings)

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Editorial Review

'Heartstrings,' exerting a quietly strong pull

By Celia Wren
Tuesday, May 18, 2010

White drapery seals off the corners of a tiny living room. On the floor, near a table covered with a pink cloth, potted plants crowd so closely together they seem to choke each other. There's a claustrophobic tinge to the cozy home we visit in "Rifar el Corazon (Heartstrings)," the tightly focused and affecting new production from Teatro de la Luna. The set's cooped-up vibe suits the material: Contemporary Uruguayan playwright Dino Armas's wry, rueful drama depicts three women coping with hemmed-in lives and the burden of a scandalous secret or two.

The cluttered living room is the domain of Marta (Nucky Walder), a citizen of an unnamed South American country who spends her days watching TV talk shows and caring for her near-comatose daughter Alicia (Yovinca Arredondo Justiniano). When Marta's finicky sister Silvana (Marycarmen Wila) visits from across town, prior to moving to New York to keep house for a tyrannical son, old resentments and accusations flare up amidst the reminiscences and sisterly bonding.

Deftly directed by Mario Marcel, the cast turns in subtle but intense performances that capture the complexity of the play's eddying humor and emotion. Now resigned, now bitter and mocking, now indulging in small power plays or complaining about a neighbor's evil eye, Walder's careworn Marta is particularly compelling. Wila is gently funny as Silvana, whose predilection for imported raspberry tea contrasts with Marta's traditional mate drinking. The sisters' attire further underscores their differences: In a pearl necklace and poppy-red jacket, Silvana looks ready for a corporate meeting, while Marta's drab-toned slacks and blouses suggest a long-ago surrender to domestic monotony. (Rosita Becker and Walder designed the costumes.)

Justiniano does a nice job with the role of Alicia, ensconced in a wheelchair, seemingly lost in a catatonic stupor, for most of her time on stage, but shifting gracefully into portraits of elated, mobile sensuality during several flashbacks and interior monologues. In another effective bit of stylization, the play's four scenes are bookended by romantic ballads sung by Alex Alburqueque from a piano beside the stage. These musical interludes supply a sense of philosophical perspective that keeps the drama's cloistered world from feeling too cramped.

Though Armas has built a twist into his cleverly constructed tale, "Rifar el Corazpn" is predominantly a quiet play, and some of Marta and Silvana's nostalgia sessions -- cooing over old photographs, giggly reenactment of a school pageant -- go on a little long. For the most part, though, the production is an intriguing taste of Armas's work, and it's one of the most polished pieces Teatro de la Luna has mounted in recent years.

By Dino Armas. Direction and set and sound design by Mario Marcel; lighting, Ayun Fedorcha. In Spanish with English surtitles (translation, Michael Gunn and Marcela Ferlito). About two hours.