Chilean poet Pablo Neruda has the last word on the 20th century in "Neruda: 2000" ("Neruda: Dos Mil"), GALA Hispanic Theatre's powerful and entertaining rendition of the late poet's vision of the coming millennium. The production, a poetic cantata in English and Spanish, is at once heavenly and hellish, hopeful and despairing.
In a provocative production that soothes and jangles, director Abel Lopez employs Neruda's farsighted book of poems, titled "2000" and published posthumously, as the skeleton for the production.
A powerful, if cataclysmic, collection of 10 poems, "2000" is fleshed out in the GALA production with other Neruda works that reflect the universal and common themes he tackled throughout his life--the impact of violence and war, the power of love, the pleasures of visiting a hardware store, the sensuality of cooking. The resulting succulent stew stimulates, satisfies and lingers long after the curtain closes.
A nice surprise is the bilingual presentation, which is easy for English and Spanish speakers to follow. The poems are spoken or sung in both languages by six actors in period costumes. The significance of the costumed actors--Hugo Medrano as Gandhi, Lorena Sabogal as a sexually ambiguous alien, Ana Castrello as Mother Earth in a flowing tapestry gown, Karen Roper as a nurse or a nun, Ric Herrera as a Hitler look-alike dictator and Luis Wanderwinder as a poor workingman--at first puzzles. But as the poetry unfolds, it becomes apparent that they represent historical personalities and symbolize the many faces of humanity. Without casting judgment, Neruda presents both the "poor bastard of the Third World" and the "furious anarcho-capitalist, ready to bite into and devour the world."
Chilean composer Miguel Cordova's musical adaptation of Neruda's poetry is the basis for GALA's production of "Neruda: 2000," with additional flourishes by pianist Mari Paz, the niece of well-known Cuban composer Rodrigo Prats, and Castrello, a mezzo-soprano with a rich, powerful voice who breathes musical life into Neruda's poetry.
While visually interesting, the set--a round lighted platform on sand, surrounded by Greek columns set against a starry night sky--at times becomes a navigational impediment for the actors.
It seems auspicious that GALA, in its 24th year, has selected Neruda to usher in the next century.
As the poet's star has climbed internationally since his death more than two decades ago, so has GALA's own reputation. "It is Today. Today has arrived. Let us walk on the rug of the inquiring millennium," says Neruda in his poem "Celebration," which concludes the book "2000." He could very well have been speaking of the spunky Adams-Morgan theater.
Neruda: 2000 ("Neruda: Dos Mil"), by Pablo Neruda. Directed by Abel Lopez. Set, Carrie Ballenger; lighting, Ayun Fedorcha; costumes, Alessandra D'Ovidio. Through Dec. 19 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 1625 Park Rd. NW. Call 202-234-7174.