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GALA Hispanic Theatre stages 'Beauty of the Father' by playwright Nilo Cruz

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 5, 2010; WE21

Playwright Nilo Cruz is only half joking when he calls "Beauty of the Father" his version of "The Graduate." Like that 1967 film, the drama, now in previews at GALA Hispanic Theatre, centers on an intergenerational love triangle. Only here, Mrs. Robinson is a man.

Speaking from Miami, the Cuban-born American writer and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Anna in the Tropics" sums up the theme of his play with a question: "What are you willing to sacrifice in your life in the name of love?" The play revolves around the romantic entanglements of Emiliano, a Spanish painter, his estranged daughter, Marina, and Karim, a young Moroccan man.

Speaking of love, did I mention that there's also the father's mistress, Paquita, whom he plans to marry as soon as she can get out of her sham marriage to Karim? And that the father is getting advice on this mess from the ghost of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca? Whom no one but Emiliano can see. And who, at one point, gives Emiliano a foot massage.

"It sounds complex," Cruz says, "but it's really very simple in the play."

The larger theme of the play, according to director Abel López, is simply love in all its manifestations: familial affection, physical attraction and platonic companionship. "I do not think it's a political play," he says, "but some of the underlying questions do resonate with the issue of what is a family today."

"Beauty of the Father" is not Cruz's first play to feature García Lorca, a homosexual and communist thought to have been murdered by right-wing nationalists at the start of the Spanish Civil War. In 2003, Cruz's "Lorca in a Green Dress" took a more biographical look at the writer, whose death holds an enduring fascination for Cruz.

The fascination is partly cultural. "In Latin America . . . the dead are very much a part of our lives," says the 49-year-old Cruz, who came to the United States at age 10.

In "Beauty of the Father," Cruz uses García Lorca as a metaphor, a "restless spirit who still feels like he has work to do in the world."

Don't expect to see García Lorca enter in a fog-machine cloud, like all-too-frequent treatments of the ghost of Hamlet's father. López says the only thing that distinguishes the ghost is that he's dressed all in white.

López says his biggest challenge lies not in making the audience believe in ghosts, but in convincing them of García Lorca's humanity. "How do you make Lorca really alive, without making him seem preachy or presentational?" he asks.

His solution involved careful casting. Playing the part of García Lorca is Dan Istrate, the local actor known for his recent turn as another undead icon: the lead in Synetic Theatre's revival of "Dracula."

Beauty of the Father GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. 202-234-7174. http://www.gala.theatre.org. Through Feb. 28. $32-$36. In English with Spanish surtitles. A discussion with the playwright will follow the 3 p.m. performance Sunday.

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