THIRTEEN is a lucky number for Teatro de la Luna. It's the number of seasons the Arlington-based theater company has been producing plays "al major estilo latinoamericano" (with the best Latin American flavor) for Spanish- and English-speaking audiences.
Thanks to live English dubbing during performances (via headsets), the company has been able to bring Spanish- and non-Spanish-speaking audiences together, crossing cultural divides while preserving the true character of original Latin American theater.
Through an interpreter, Teatro de la Luna's artistic director and co-founder, Mario Marcel, notes, "Our mission is to provide the best contemporary plays from Latin America."
Marcel has directed more than 100 plays for de la Luna. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive," he says. "It's been rewarding to introduce these plays and playwrights to American audiences."
A native Argentine, Marcel selected "Venecia (Venice)," an acclaimed play by South American playwright and Argentina resident Jorge Accame, to close out de la Luna's 13th season.
"I have been wanting to do this play a very long time," Marcel says. " 'Venecia' is a faithful reflection of social status in South America and touches on many sociopolitical themes."
If that sounds a little heavy, it's not: "Venecia" is actually a comedy, one that Marcel feels brings together some of the best elements of Latin American structure and themes.
Set in an Argentine brothel, "Venecia" is the story of Gringa, an ailing madam, who fixedly reminisces about an early lover she has done wrong. Gringa, played by de la Luna co-founder Nucky Walder, wants only to travel to Venice and find Giacomo, her old lover, to seek his forgiveness. The younger women of the house band together to help send Gringa to Venice, but when they are unable to afford a real trip, they must find a way to bring Venice to Gringa, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, past and present.
Marcel's challenge as a director was to make sure the audience would be able to follow the magical realism, to create fluid shifts in time and setting.
"It's important that the audience understands where it is and what is happening at all times."
Despite the gritty setting and the impoverished lives of its characters, Marcel says that his production of "Venecia" celebrates "the dignity of these characters, their integrity and strength."
"Venecia" features a multinational cast, including actors from more than a half-dozen South American countries, and for Marcel, it feels like the culmination of a dream.
"I called season 13 'Dream Walking,' " Marcel explains, "because that is how it has felt, like walking through a dream."
Looking back on the past 13 seasons, Marcel is proudest of Teatro de la Luna's growth, of having helped to create a working theater with Hispanic and non-Hispanic actors that serves to promote Spanish-language productions and introduce new and unique forms of Hispanic theater.
Love and solidarity, Marcel says, are the central themes of "Venecia," and that is the note Teatro de la Luna wanted to finish on for this season. Those two things say it all, Marcel says. In any language.