The closing moment of "Cheeks" comes with John, the young man who has survived his own personal revolution, left alone on the stage. He turns to the audience and asks: "Who will play cheeks with me?"
It's more than a rhetorical question. How the play ends depends on the audience response. It's a gimmick, but one response can bring an ending with great impact.
"Cheeks," the English adaptation of a contemporary drama by Argentinian playwright Guillermo Gentile, is being staged by the Gala Hispanic Theatre on Thursdays and Saturdays. It alternates with a Spanish-language version of the play, "Hablemos a Calzon Quitao," performed by the same actors on Fridays and Sundays.
It's a considerable challenge because the English version is not a straight translation but an adaptation with changes in script lines.
Gentle can create characters who are humorous, human and affecting. The problem with the play is that he deserts his characters for polemics and too often leaves them stranded in mid deserts his characters for polemics and too often leaves them stranded in mid-emotion.
Gentile is writing about individual freedom, search for identity, suffocating love and revolution. It's a big order. John, a 21-year-old man who still is tucked into bed by his father -- and who plays a childish game of puffed-out cheeks -- has just found a new friend named Martin on the street and brought him home. Martin, a bearded chap who is a political radical, coaches John into breaking free from his father -- making his "own personal revolution." When the father is driven out by his son and Martin gets ready to take his leave, John is left alone on the stage. Gentile leaves the ending unresolved.
Until the middle of the play, you'll agree with the father who proclaims: "I'm tired of this abnormality." Gentile's characters are strange and so are the relationships. But the Gala cast does manage to bring pity, if not understanding, to the characters.Under Hugo Medrano's direction, Richard Gaetjens, Guillermo Labarca and Manolo Santallo gave solid performances.
"It's very difficult to find bilingual actors, so we don't have any understudies," explained Medrano. "The English adaptation moves the characters to a big American city like New York or Chicago. There are subtle changes of character and emphasis that the playwright approved."
The play will run through March 22. The Gala Theatre is housed in a converted townhouse, recently enlarged, at 2319 18th St. NW.