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‘Sotto Voce’,

meticulosa puesta en escena

Mayra Marrero

Especial/El Nuevo Herald (Publicado el viernes, 03.28.14)

Con unos pocos meses de diferencia de su última puesta en escena, vuelve a Miami Nilo Cruz en su dualidad de director-autor con Sotto Voce. Tras su première el pasado febrero en Theatre for the New City, en Nueva York, se presentó en Miami con el mismo elenco en una producción conjunta de Arca Images, Miami-Dade County Auditorium y Theatre for the New City.

Después de una accidentada travesía hasta el teatro, logró llegar, quizás con la misma expectativa que los tripulantes del barco St. Louis llegaban a La Habana en 1938. Cruz en su pasión por la investigación y el testimonio, narra un pasaje gris de la historia cubana y americana cuando se negó desembarcar en sus puertos a 937 judios alemanes que escapaban de la persecución nazi. Esta negativa tuvo serias repercuciones sociales y políticas, pero sobre todo humanas, cuando los pasajeros a bordo del St. Louis emprendieron viaje de regreso a Europa y como consecuencia, una gran cantidad de ellos fueron víctimas del Holocausto.

 

Cruz crea los personajes Bernadette Khan, Saquiel y Lucía a partir de este infausto hecho y recrea una historia de amor por la vía de la reconciliacion con la memoria. En la obra de Cruz, La Habana siempre tiene una presencia protagónica tanto como Nueva York o Tampa. La migración, la memoria histórica, la nostalgia, la identidad y el adiós son claves en el discurso narrativo de Cruz, que lo traduce en un texto poético, en el que el amor no conoce límites.

 

Sotto Voce es una obra suave, delicada como un susurro y es este el tono que usa el director-autor en su puesta en escena. Los personajes entran y salen con geométrica elegancia en la excelente y minimalista escenografía de Adrian Jones que cierra el espacio con libros y elementos blancos que aluden a una poética onírica. La puesta la complementa el diseño de luces de Alexander Bertenieff, sutil y austero, acentuando cada instante con la iluminación precisa.

 

Bernadette, interpretada por Franca Sofia Barchiesi, nunca se encuentra fisicamente con Saquiel, Andy Méndez, sin embargo en su imaginación Saquiel se transforma en Ariel su primer amor, quien estuvo a bordo del St. Louis. Saquiel desde Cuba se obsesiona con la historia de Ariel y esta circunstancia lo hace viajar a Nueva York para concluir su investigacion. Sin embargo a Bernadette no le interesa salir de su apartamento, donde la acompaña Lucila, Arielle Jacobs, su sirvienta colombiana.

 

En este concierto a tres voces, el director traduce en poesía el deslizamiento actoral y el suave tono pasional que exige en sus actores.

 

Barchesi hace gala de su experiencia interpretativa y nos entrega una Bernadette vehemente, contradictoria y exquisitamente diseñada en su manierismo y gestualidad. Por su parte Méndez y Jacobs, con sus insinuaciones y galanteos, suben de color y tono la puesta con pinceladas de humor y versatilidad.

 

La obra, más allá de la historia de amor que cuenta, es tambíen la historia del destino de hombres y mujeres que gravitan por una arbitrariedad gubernamental.

 

Sotto Voce es una exquisita, meticulosa y lírica puesta en escena en la que la mano queda extendida para el adiós, en este convulso mundo de permisos de entradas y salidas.•

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Andhy Mendez: ‘el teatro te convierte en buen actor’

Arturo Arias-Polo

aarias-polo@elnuevoherald.com

Publicado el viernes, 03.21.14

En su afán por recobrar los documentos del S.S. St Louis, la nave que intentó desembarcar en La Habana en 1939 con 937 judíos que escapaban de la persecución nazi, un escritor judío residente en la isla viaja a Nueva York seis décadas después tras la huella de una escritora alemana que en su juventud sostuvo un romance con un pasajero del barco.

La cautivante historia conforma el argumento de Sotto Voce, drama escrito y dirigido por Nilo Cruz que ocupa el On.Stage Black Box del Miami-Dade County Auditorium desde el jueves 20 de marzo, con las actuaciones de Franca Sofia Barchiesi, Arielle Jacobs y Andhy Mendez.

 

“A través de la obra se demuestra que el amor tiene muchas facetas y que todo el mundo tiene salgo que enseñar”, explica Mendez a el Nuevo Herald desde un hotel de Brickell Avenue. “Esa mujer nunca imaginó que un joven cubano hiciera lo imposible por localizarla y hacerla revivir un romance de juventud”.

 

Mendez considera que está viviendo “una experiencia diferente” con su personaje. Sobre todo, porque se trata de un escritor “que ve el mundo a su manera y logra mantenerse al margen de lo que ocurre en Cuba”.

 

“Resulta curioso que Saquiel no decida quedarse en Estados Unidos, pero como su obsesión es llegar hasta el fondo de la investigación decide regresar a La Habana con la promesa de volver a Nueva York y entregarle a la mujer las cartas de amor que le prometió”, amplía.

 

Sotto Voce no es la primera colaboración de Mendez con el Premio Pulitzer 2003. Hace un par de años, el actor cubano integró el elenco de la obra Hamlet, príncipe de Cuba, una producción de Asolo Repertory Theatre, con sede en Sarasota, traducida al español por Cruz.

 

“Lo conocí cuando ingresé a The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts, en el 2007. En aquel momento pensé que ‘algún día’ trabajaría con él sin imaginarme que a la vuelta de unos años estrenaría una obra suya”, dice Mendez al referirse a la premiere de Sotto Voce en el Theater For The New City, el 15 de febrero.

 

La trayectoria del actor en las tablas neoyorquinas incluye Strawberry and Chocolate, Between Two Worlds, Downside Risk, The Duchess of Malfi, I Am a Camera, Macbeth: Let It Be, Pullman Car Hiawatha y Loved: In Four Shorts. Entre los trabajos más recientes para la televisión figuran las series Golden Boy, Gossip Girl, NYC 22 y Blue Bloods.

 

“El cine te hace famoso y la televisión te da dinero. Pero el teatro te convierte en buen actor”, dice el artista habanero de 24 años, que decidió armar su cuartel en la capital del mundo “porque allí es donde se hacen los buenos actores”.

 

“Vivir en Nueva York es duro, pero vale la pena el esfuerzo”, señala. “Necesitaba crecer como actor y ser humano. De lo contrario todavía estuviera dependiendo de mi familia en Miami”.

 

Mendez llegó a Miami en 1993. Cuando tenía 7 años la maestra le sugirió a la madre que lo llevara a las audiciones de la telenovela Morelia porque no paraba de hablar español en clase. Tras varias pruebas y un mes de entrenamiento para reducir su acento cubano el pequeño obtuvo el papel de Pillete.

 

“Mis padres nunca pensaron que ese sería mi camino. Sin embargo en la medida que pasaba el tiempo me daba cuenta de que la actuación me hacía sentir libre”, evoca el actor, que no tardó en aparecer en los segmentos infantiles de Sábado gigante bajo la tutela de Maitén Montenegro –su maestra en MDA Studio, la academia donde recibió sus primeras clases de actuación, baile y canto– y en el cuerpo de baile de Premio Lo Nuestro.

 

“Aunque para mí aquello era un juego Maitén nos insistía en que respetáramos esta profesión”, destaca el actor, que por esa época alternó con Harvey Keitel y Andy García en los filmes Cuban Blood y For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story. “Luego comprobé que sus enseñanzas y la experiencia frente las cámaras me dieron la seguridad que necesitaba para seguir adelante”.

 

Entre lo que aguarda el estreno de las películas Cecilia’ s Birthday, Half the Perfect World y la serie de Netflix Orange Is The New Black, en la que interpreta a un ladrón de bancos, Mendez se prepara para el montaje teatral de Daughter of the Waves, con Wallis Knot Theatre de NuevaYork.

 

¿Y el salto definitivo a Hollywood?

 

“No descarto la idea de mudarme a Los Angeles en un futuro. Pero antes quiero estar completamente preparado”, afirma. •

 

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 Nilo Cruz is a keen observer of behavior, but his characters’ actions are simply the outer layer of what the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright explores in his impressive body of work.

 

Cruz’s territory is the soul, that inner life in which dreams, desires and disappointments reside. His exquisite, dreamlike new play Sotto Voce probes the entanglement of past and present. And it looks at how crippling, repressed pain can suffocate the spirit.

 

Sotto Voce, which has nearly sold out its lamentably short run at Miami-Dade County Auditorium’s On.Stage Black Box, is not a history play, though a cruel incident from World War II helps drive the drama’s action. The 1939 voyage of the St. Louis, which carried 937 Jewish refugees away from the hell of Nazi Germany, became a doomed quest for asylum as first Cuba, then the United States and Canada turned the ship away, sending the passengers back to Europe and a quarter of them to death in concentration camps.

 

Cruz gives two of the three characters in Sotto Voce connections to the St. Louis. Bemadette Kahn (Franca Sofia Barchiesi), a famous German-born novelist living in New York, lost her Jewish first love Ariel Strauss and his sister Nina to the St. Louis tragedy. Saquiel Rafaeli (Andhy Mendez), a student from Cuba, has become immersed in a St. Louis research project, in part to honor his late grandfather, whose sister perished after being denied entry into Cuba. That project has yielded a cache of love letters from Bemadette to Ariel, so Saquiel has traveled to New York to meet the reclusive author.

 

The playwright-director, who staged Sotto Voce’s world premiere last month at New York’s Theater for the New City and again for its fleeting Miami run, crafts spare but expressive stage pictures, moments that embody the layers of his beautifully poetic language.

 

The poetry of Cruz’s writing is what those who love his work cite most often about his style, and Sotto Voce has that. Yet it also contains passages that are realistic, whimsical, sensual and heartbreaking. Cruz may be that rarity, a poet of the stage, but he is first and foremost a dramatist.

 

Sotto Voce has been brought to vibrant life by its New York cast, which also includes Arielle Jacobs as Lucila Pulpo, Bemadette’s spirited Colombian maid and companion. She and Mendez supply the play’s flirtatious fun and its overt passion, and the two get to demonstrate their versatility by briefly portraying the 1939-era Nina and Ariel Strauss, German accents and all.

 

Barchiesi is genuinely mesmerizing. Using the powerful instruments of her lithe, graceful body and her musical speaking voice, the actress explores and expresses Bemadette’s every emotional nuance. She makes the powerful connection between Bemadette and Saquiel — a non-physical bond experienced through conversation and email — entirely plausible and engrossing. She jumps from the weightless delight of an older woman imagining an excursion with the attentive Saquiel to realizing the crushing weight of the loss that has never left her. She’s amazing.

 

And so is the lovely, lyrical Sotto Voce, which too few Miamians will get to see. The legendary director Peter Brook will be directing a French version of it in Paris in the future, with other versions to follow. But even without his involvement, Sotto Voce is a play with a future.

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Nilo Cruz Returns To Holocaust's 'Voyage Of The Damned' In New Play

 

 By Christine DiMattei

WLRN  Miami / South Florida

The fate of a German ocean liner in 1939 is one of the darkest moments in both American and Cuban history. The M.S. St. Louis was bound for Havana, carrying nearly a thousand Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.

 

After Cuba and the U.S. both turned the ship away and it returned to Europe -- most of those passengers perished in the Holocaust.

 

And now, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz has raised the specter of that doomed voyage in his latest work, titled "Sotto Voce."

 

Cruz talks with WLRN reporter Christine DiMattei about the play -- and about his own harrowing experience fleeing Castro's Cuba as a child.

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"Sotto Voce"

Reviewed March 1, 2014 by Larry Litt

I'm always fascinated by literary quests. Why would a writer go to the tremendous emotional struggle and mental expense of writing a particular work? When in their lives did an idea germinate and how long before it was born, grew and reached maturity before reaching the last stage of lettered life? What were the sperm donors and egg hosts? What personal experiences keep the flame of research alive, trying to understand the causes, both overt and underlying that lead to an engrossing story or poem?

Sotto Voce, Nilo Cruz' new play asks these and many more personal and literary questions pf its characters. The answers are played out by one of the most engaging casts I've seen working together in a long while.

The play's motivating character is Bemadette, a much published and celebrated novelist now a mature aging beauty living in self imposed seclusion in a spacious Upper West Side apartment. Franca Sofia Barchiesi movingly, joyously and sadly brings her to life as an agoraphobic intellectual living with writer's block but full of a lifetime's worth of repressed personal memories. One moment Bemadette is an old woman suffering from a stroke, the next Ms Barchiesi transforms her into a much younger version with all the energy and beauty of her European past. It's an exciting transition from girl to woman that demands focused attention.

 

But often Bemadette is a recluse who at the play's significant moment is repelling an insistent young stalker with his own grand and perhaps damaging literary ideas. Saquiel is a student, also an aspiring serious writer. He's on the quest for information about one of the passengers on the ill-fated SS Saint Louis, a passenger ocean liner that carried German Jews to their doom in 1939. Saquiel embodies the Jewish quest for historical knowledge about this tragedy. Andhy Mendez burns high energy into Saquiel's impatient life. The clock is ticking for the young, romantic Cuban student on a mission in New York on a fast expiring visa. We feel another gate about to close, another unconsummated relationship to pity.

 

To be fair this isn't the first historical novel, play or film about the SS St Louis tragedy. What Nilo Cruz majestically creates through these characters is New York in the 21^st Century filled with immigration problems that delay lives, muffle desires and frustrate fulfillment. Arielle Jacobs sometimes giddy, sometimes silly often rebellious but always bright and charming portrayal of Lucila, Bemadette's Columbian housekeeper is a reminder of the world after September 9/11, a world that has clamped down on immigration visas and their dreamers. An American government attempting to control the lives of everyone it can pervades the borders. Caught in this officialdom is the literary quest, the desire to know more about the past so that maybe we can learn from it.

 

There's a unique scene in Soto Voce, a virtual date brought to life by Saquiel and Bemadette. She can't go out, he isn't allowed in her apartment. However they're compelled unite. It becomes a balletique tribute to New York City's joys and inspirations for young lovers. You will remember this scene for a long time. It's what committed writing can do. Nilo Cruz brings imagination to life for us.

 

No this isn't another maudlin play about the Holocaust. Above all else it's a love story about growing older with the tragedy of wartime love. No matter how far removed we are from romance somewhere deep inside love's deepest remembrance wants to feel the air one more time.

 

Sotto Voce is a beautifully written and directed reminder that some of us are always going to be curious while struggling with our political and personal histories. At the same time we're balancing life and love. It's the perfect quest.

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Theater Review (NYC):

‘Sotto Voce’ by Nilo Cruz

 Posted by: Carole Di Tosti February 27, 2014 in Arts, Culture and Society,

Editor Pick: Culture and Society, Theater

When one speaks “sotto voce,” one speaks in a softer, lower tone for emphasis or perhaps to give the impression of an involuntary utterance of truth which may shock or antagonize. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics, 2003), is revealing great truths through undercurrents and whisperings of poignant and impossible love in the world premiere of Sotto Voce. The play, which he also directed, is being performed at Theater for the New City until March 9.

As the play opens, we hear a foghorn and see two separate scenes that are going on simultaneously, one from the past and one in the present. The scene from the past involves memory and imagination. The scene in the present is of uncompromising reality. In the present we see Bemadette, a the renowned German-born writer, composing her work center stage at her desk in her apartment in New York City. A voiceover narration of Bemadette’s rich and beautiful prose describing the scene she has written makes the prose alive. We see a sister and her brother, the Strausses, walking happily on their way toward the ship they will soon board on their way out of Germany to Cuba. Along with 937 other Jewish refugees they are seeking asylum from Hitler’s Germany. The year is 1939, The ship is the ill-fated SS St. Louis.

 

The tragedy of the St. Louis is one of the more egregious examples of politics, human profiteering and discrimination involving democratic countries to come out of the pre-WWII years. After the ship made it to the alleged place of asylum, the refugees never were allowed into Cuba. They sought help from Canada and the U.S. but were denied immigration status and turned away. After voyages to the Florida coast and back to Cuba, they were running out of supplies. The ship was forced to return to Europe. Belgium, France, England and Holland agreed to take in the refugees. Of them, 254 died when the European countries were occupied by the Nazis (England excepted). Of these 254, many were sent to the camps. The St. Louis incident is integral to Sotto Voce. How Cruz uses it to evoke wonderful themes about memory, lost love, regret, reconciliation and rebirth is poetic and illuminating.

 

As Cruz develops the play, he intertwines memory, imagination and current reality to tell the story of Bemadette. Her lover was Strauss, who with his sister, were refugees on the St. Louis. Bemadette cannot deal with past regrets about her lover who died in the camps. Her stability and her enjoyment of the present have been warped by pain. When we meet Bemadette (an astounding and emotionally taut performance by Franca Sofia Barchiesi), we recognize she is a dried husk. Guilt has sucked out the choicest portions of her lifeblood. In her attempt to reconcile the past, she writes, but it is poor recompense and she is haunted by nightmares and ghosts.

 

Then a life-changing event occurs. It helps her expiate the sadness and desolation that has kept her pinned to the past in repeated agonizing remembrances. The catalyst comes in a beautiful form, a Cuban college student, Saquiel (an intense and provocative Andhy Mendez) who has read her writings and who shares a bond with her. His grandfather’s sister was on the St. Louis and was killed in the Holocaust. In seeking out Bemadette, he is looking for his past and wanting to understand the sources of the beauty of her writings and her own history that she would prefer to nullify but cannot.

 

An ethereal and platonic relationship via phone and email develops between Bemadette and Saquiel, fueled by an intermediary, Bemadette’s maid Lucila (an excellent Arielle Jacobs). The student and the writer help one another, even though they do not physically see each other but instead imagine they are together. It is through their loving, healthful relationship and their probing discussions that we discover the mysteries of Bemadette’s horrific regrets and misery about her Jewish lover. It is through Saquiel’s perseverance, love and appreciation of Bemadette’s artistry and history that she is able to reconcile her memories with the present realities. By the play’s conclusion Saquiel and Bemadette are transported to a new understanding of themselves and what they are willing to sacrifice to gain peace and hope.

 

In Sotto Voce Nilo Cruz has created a sumptuous work of art, integrating poetic forms within the structure of the plot to fuel the dialogue and characterizations. He does this with beauty and grace that convey a wistfulness and longing for health and wholeness which both characters are on their way to achieving by the play’s end. Most importantly, Cruz reminds us of the power of human relationships to heal. It is a power that transcends the limitations of time and space and age differences. If it is allowed to develop and grow, one may receive the energy to create new dreams to replace those lost to time and regret.

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