MARCH 2022 | Volume 213
Genevieve Fleming and Alexandra Lainfiesta. Photo By David Markwei.
by Christine Quintana, trans. & adapted by Paula Zelaya Cervantes
Neworld Theatre in assoc. with Western Canada Theatre
The Cultch Historic Theatre
www.thecultch.com or 604-251-1363
Clean/Espejos is an extraordinary new play from Christine Quintana, Paula Zelaya Cervantes, and Neworld Theatre. A remarkable bilingual script, two fabulous performances, and superb production values add up to a rare A+ debut.
Essentially a series of alternating monologues in Spanish and English with translated surtitles projected on an upstage scrim, the play concerns two women whose lives cross at a Cancun resort. The Spanish word espejos means mirrors, and the characters do in some ways mirror each other, although they are fundamentally very different. The plot also provides each one with multiple opportunities to examine herself, as in a mirror. What they see does not generally make them happy, but it helps them both to fight through to some hard-won victories.
We first meet Mexican Adriana (Alexandra Lainfiesta, in one of the best local performances of the decade), housekeeping manager at the upscale resort. Though angry, sarcastic, hyper-aware of the shit she has to put up with from her gringo guests, she is devoted to her job. We learn early on that the job allowed her to escape from her violent family home. She pours all her frustration and anger into her work and her monologues, which come out in machine-gun Spanish.
Vancouverite Sarah (Genevieve Fleming in another terrific and brave performance) is at the resort for her younger sister’s wedding. She’s seriously messed up: too much booze and self-loathing. The family black sheep, she resents her mother and sister constantly riding herd on her. Like Adriana, Sarah has had a trauma that haunts her, but it will take us most of the play to learn the details.
Sarah and Adriana have only a few brief scenes in which they address each other. These are tense and powerful, with entirely unexpected outcomes. Sometimes mirrors can distort as much as they reflect.
Quintana’s script is smart and densely detailed, dealing not just with the emotional lives of these two beautifully written characters, but with the sociology of resort life as well, from both angles. At times it reminded me of HBO’s The White Lotus, but with greater characterological depth. Zelaya-Cervantes’ translations, essential to the staging, sound and read as colloquial and often funny as the spoken English.
The show’s design elements are as sharp as the acting and script. Shizuka Kai’s set, in shades of cream and sand, features two mobile benches/beds/storage areas shaped like rolls of toilet paper—and when one opens, you can see the housekeeper’s toilet paper stored inside. Candelario Andrade’s video projections are consistently gorgeous, complemented by Mishelle Cuttler’s resonant sound. Andie Lloyd’s projected surtitles constantly surprise, adding yet another valuable dimension to the spectacle. Harika Xu’s subtle lighting is perfect.
Remarkable for a premiere, Clean/Espejos nevertheless suffers from a few false endings, as Quintana tries to cover every base in wrapping up both characters’ dramas. I expect that subsequent productions will have a 10-15 minute shorter second act. But wow, what a premiere. Wow, what a play!
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