Barceló con hielo. Repertorio Español at the Gramercy Arts Theatre (see Off-Off Broadway). By Marco Antonio Rodríguez. Directed by José Zayas. In Spanish with English subtitles. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 55mins. One intermission.
Barceló con hielo: In brief
In Marco Antonio Rodríguez's ghost-haunted family drama, a cancer-stricken father (played by the author) guzzles rum while raging against the dying of the light. The world premiere is directed by the excellent José Zayas for Repertorio Español.
Barceló con hielo: Theater review by Helen Shaw
Nino, the easily incensed lead character of Repertorio Español's Barceló con hielo ("Rum on the Rocks"), has a lot to drink about. His stomach cancer's acting up, he doesn't much like his grown sons Sergio (Iván Camilo) and Dennis (hyperactive Javier Fano), and ghosts have begun creeping out of the walls. In Marco Antonio Rodríguez's frequently powerful drama—first a bad-dad comedy, then a wrenching memory play—a Dominican past haunts Nino (Rodríguez), complete with repressed betrayals, absent friends and even a tyrannical historical revenant, the post-Trujillo president Joaquín Balaguer.
Rodríguez wants to use this past to illuminate his complicated antihero: Nino spews racist invective and homophobic rants out the window at his New York neighborhood, and he evinces a total distrust of those nearest him. Dennis, granted, is a dim bulb, ambition-free and vulgar—and to exaggerate his awfulness, Fano plays to the crowd, making him into caricature. But both character and performer turn lovable when Fano plays off Camilo, an actor of deep reserve and serious gifts. Director José Zayas creates a few family moments between the three men that feel disturbingly realistic in their frank affection and casual violence.
Their reality, though, starts to bleed into Nino's past. As his health gets worse (and the rum keeps flowing), he finds himself confronting his long-dead brother Aurelio (a very fine Jerry Soto) and his old, never-forgotten friend Jastón (marvelous Modesto Lacén). That President Balaguer (Fernando Then) also glides around, peering menacingly out from behind the curtains, indicates that Nino's ghosts may be shared by many.
Now that Repertorio Español has replaced its simultaneous-translation headsets with back-of-the-seat, Met Opera–style subtitles, the delight for the non-Spanish speaker has increased tenfold. The pleasures also now include an entertaining game: trying to figure out how many curse words aren't getting translated: Barceló is maybe 90 percent people yelling “¡coño!”—yet nary a fuck (or variant) appeared on my little screen.
The obscenities may not translate, but nearly everything else does. In fact, I came away wishing that playwrights in particular would come and learn from this frequently sentimental work firmly in the Tennessee Williams mold. "Too old-fashioned!," I hear you say. "Too melodramatic!" But its strength and emotional variety, its richly constructed characters, and its intelligent marriage of public history and private pain manage to override any qualms about its on-the-nose symbolism. In my perfect world, Rodríguez wouldn't play his own hero—there's room for an older, age-appropriate actor, one who was conceivably a young man during the first Balaguer presidency. But even this weakness turns our attention to Camilo. It's not inappropriate that we wind up judging the man by the sweetness of his son.—Theater review by Helen Shaw