Teatro de la Luna's season premiere of "Cuentos de Hadas" ("Fairy Tales"), by the Uruguayan playwright Raquel Diana, is anything but a simple retelling of childhood stories of good fairies, beautiful princesses and evil witches.
The beguiling, sensitively performed play employs several well-known fairy tales as a kind of looking glass to reflect and transform the harsh everyday reality of three lonely women--the young and emotionally injured Blanca; her sad but vain stepmother, Maruja; and an older family friend, the well-meaning, eccentric Carmen.
The three women struggle to survive in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, in the 1970s and '80s, a time of social upheaval, military repression and the disappearance of political dissidents.
The disconnect between fantasy and reality is apparent as soon as the house lights dim. The story is told in the form of a monologue--alternating between "fairy stories" and "real life" stories--that Blanca shares with her unborn baby.
As Blanca starts the telling, she kneels among a pile of dolls and stuffed toys and recounts the story of a beautiful queen who pricks her finger while sewing and wishes for a daughter "with skin as white as snow, lips red as blood and hair dark as ebony."
She then tells us and the baby that her mother died in childbirth and her father died soon after of a heart attack. She now lives a rather unhappy, claustrophobic life with her stepmother. Later, as her story unfolds, we discover that she was tortured and raped by military authorities after her lover, a union activist, mysteriously disappeared.
Amazingly, the hardened yet childlike Blanca manages to pluck some sense of meaning, love and hope from the physical violence and despair that surround her. Maruja finds happiness in a belated marriage, and Carmen dies and goes off "to the mountains to live among the spirits."
Inspired performances by the starring actresses--Anabel Marcano (Blanca), Nucky Walder (Carmen) and Muriel Alfonseca (Maruja)--move the plot along at a fast clip. The chemistry among the three women is fun to watch. A chilling scene on the inviting set, which serves as kitchen, bedchamber, prison and sewing factory, comes when Blanca is portrayed being tortured behind a curtain of thin black gauze.
The play, Diana's fourth since 1996, recently received several awards in Uruguay, including one from the International Institute of Theater. Produced for the first time outside Uruguay, the play is in keeping with Luna's practice of seeking out plays by a new generation of Latin American writers who are little known outside their home countries.
Although not quite as polished as some recent Luna productions, "Fairy Tales" demonstrates the resilient eight-year-old company's ability to weave a web of magic on the stage of the Gunston Arts Center.
Cuentos de Hadas ("Fairy Tales"), by Raquel Diana. Directed by Mario Marcel. At Teatro de la Luna, Gunston Arts Center Theater II in Arlington, through Oct. 16. Performed in English on Fridays and Saturdays only. Call 703-548-3092.