THEATER Review l Cuba's Teatro El Público offers riveting subterfuge of human nature, consequences BY MIA LEONIN Special to The Miami Herald Male actors who portray a turbulent love triangle of women would be all about gender bending. However, Havana-based Teatro El Público's rendition of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Las Amargas Lágrimas de Petra Von Kant (The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant) was a surprise from the beginning. The riveting masquerade of personalities by director Carlos Díaz is as much about character as sexuality. Performed in Spanish with English supertitles, Las Amargas Lágrimas opened the first Out in the Tropics Festival, sponsored by FUNDarte and Tropical Wave Productions. It was staged Thursday and Friday at the Miami Beach Colony Theater. The play charts the stormy relationship between Petra, a tyrannical fashion designer portrayed by Fernando Hechevarría and Karin (Lester Martínez), a beautiful young woman. Petra falls madly in love at first sight and promises Karin a career as a model, but when they move in together -- and Karin becomes brutally frank about her sexual exploits with men -- Petra flies into a rage. Marlene, Petra's subservient assistant, (played by Yanier Palmero) completes this triangle. Marlene, who doesn't utter a word throughout the play, is clearly in love with Petra and resents Karin, but her silence makes her the most transparent character. By contrast, Petra, Karin and Petra's sycophant friend, Sidonie (humorously portrayed by Ismercy Salomón), constantly engage in a theatrical double speak that is the play's real surprise and its true gem. Throughout Las Amargas Lágrimas, Petra and Karin fluidly don a variety of wigs, shoes and clothes. The effect is subversive and often darkly comic. In one such moment, Petra declares her love to Karin and proposes they live together while Marlene helps her change from a shimmering evening gown into a pair of white pants, blazer and short wig. As Petra literally and figuratively ``pulls on her pants,'' she breaks into the stereotypically loud, crude, bark of a Cuban machista. Other times, characters' gestures contradict their words. As Karin tries to assuage Petra's sexual jealousy, she performs a series of lurid pelvic thrusts. These abrupt shifts in vocal register and body language abound, and they underscore the conflictive nature of human beings. Hechevarría's agile transformation from self-serving despot into groveling lover in a matter of seconds is impressive. What could be downright confusing in less talented hands is hilarious and heartbreaking under Díaz's sharp direction. Performances by Alicia Hechevarría as Petra's teenage daughter, Carlos Caballero as Pierre and Mónica Guffanti as Petra's mother round out the exceptional cast. Like the mirror on Petra's vanity table to which each character turns for self-examination turned subterfuge, Las Amargas Lágrimas magnifies the contradictory nature humanity and its tragic consequences. On Friday, a rousing standing ovation of several minutes served as the final testament to the power of Teatro El Público's performance -- and its significance. The group is the first Cuban theatrical company to perform in Miami but not the last. On July 23, FUNDarte brings Cuba's Teatro Buendía to Little Havana's Manuel Artime Theater.
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