Theater Review: 'El Insomnio Americano (The American Insomnia)'

By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 16, 2009; 11:17 PM

If only all last-minute fixes were as satisfactory as "El Insomnio Americano (The American Insomnia)."

When travel complications recently derailed a scheduled visit by a Colombian production, the 12th International Festival of Hispanic Theater, in Arlington, was in need of a new opener. Teatro de la Luna, which stages the annual cultural smorgasbord, lucked out by snagging Saulo García's "Insomnio," a Spanish-language solo show that's sly, funny, varied, spiffily produced and -- as if that weren't enough -- topical.

A Colombian living in Miami, García has a good-humored stage presence that's irresistible, even if you don't instantly understand every word coming out of his mouth. Performances of "Insomnio" (which continues through Saturday) and of other upcoming productions in the festival (which runs through Nov. 21) feature live English-language dubbing for Anglophone theatergoers. On opening night of "Insomnio," the gales of laughter that erupted regularly in the house occasionally made the dubbing hard to hear -- particularly during García's frequent bouts of improvisational audience-ribbing. But his animated face is so readable and fun to watch, and his vocal inflections so informative, that ticket holders stranded in the lingo of Shakespeare will have little trouble rolling with the moment.

"Insomnio," whose title puns on the phrase "the American dream," deals with cross-cultural misunderstandings and the difficulties immigrants may encounter after moving to the United States in search of a better life. With immigration a lightning-rod issue in this country -- as episodes in the health-care debate have demonstrated -- the show necessarily hums with political resonance. But García's tone in his monologue-skit-standup hybrid is lighthearted, at least on the surface. His expression now impish, now panicked, now insouciant. He riffs on the discomforts of sleeping on acquaintances' sofa beds, the perils of pumping your own gas when you're used to full service, the vexations of living in fear of law enforcement (even when the uniformed officer turns out to be a mall guard) and other potential stateside hardships. He also lampoons existence in Colombia, where, he blithely announces, roller coasters are unnecessary because muggings are such a good source of adrenaline thrills.

García periodically picks up a guitar and sings a satirical ballad, at one point asking audience members for their names and generating allusive verses on the spot. Performed on a simple set featuring bright-colored silk screens patterned with passport-control stamps, "Insomnio" boasts classy lighting and sound design. (García and Orlando Zuluaga composed the original music.) The show has appeared elsewhere in the United States and ran for several years at New York's Repertorio Español. The professional experience shows.

In the next few weeks, the International Festival of Hispanic Theater will host six other productions, including the Argentine "Abanico de Soltera (Fan of a Single Woman)," a one-hander that pays tribute to Federico García Lorca; "El Gato y la Gaviota (The Cat and the Seagull)," a bilingual family play based on a tale by Luis Sepúlveda and mounted by Teatro de la Luna; and the Venezuelan "Dra. Sexo (Dr. Sex)," adapted from Dario Fo's "Tengamos el Sexo en Paz (Let's Have Sex in Peace)." So even after "Insomnio" drifts off, the Gunston Arts Center will still be wide awake.

El Insomnio Americano (The American Insomnia), by Saulo García; directed by Leandro Fernández; runs through Oct. 17. Part of the 12th International Festival of Hispanic Theater, produced by Teatro de la Luna, which runs through Nov. 21. Most shows in Spanish with live English dubbing. At Gunston Arts Center -- Theater Two, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. Call 703-548-3092 or 202-882-6227 or visit teatrodelaluna.org.


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