• October 22, 2019
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Queens Chronicle

Empathy and compassion, in light of a massacre

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2019 10:30 am

Thalia Spanish Theatre in Sunnyside continues to be an invaluable cultural presence in the borough with its latest offering, “La Golondrina,” a two-character play running through Oct. 13.

As the only bilingual Hispanic theater in Queens, Thalia has been celebrating the diversity of Spanish and Latin American heritage for more than four decades.

Ordinarily, performances at the theater alternate between Spanish and English. This time around, the play is presented only in Spanish — but not to worry. Large, easy-to-read supertitles are provided, affording even non-Spanish speakers an opportunity to experience the show’s power.

Written by the Spanish playwright Guillem Clua, “La Golondrina” has been translated into multiple languages and been performed worldwide, from London and Athens to Sao Paulo and Puerto Rico.

Its acclaim is understandable.

On the surface, it’s a simple conversation between a man and an older woman, who, as the play begins, are meeting for the first time. The woman, Amelia, is a professional voice teacher, and the man, Ramon, of little musical talent, is futilely trying to convince her to take him on as a student. To strengthen his case, he tells her he wants to prepare a song to sing at a memorial for his mother.

The song gives the play its title, which translates to “the swallow,” a bird with a long and mythical history that takes on special significance and poignancy here.

As the 80-minute, intermissionless piece develops, Ramon’s story gets more and more complicated, with sometimes unanticipated twists and turns, and the lives of the two characters become intertwined in increasingly emotional ways.

Clua, who originally trained as a journalist, draws much of his inspiration from the headlines. In this play, the back story involves the 2016 terrorist attack on the Pulse Bar in Orlando, Fla., the deadliest incident of violence against the LGBT community in this country’s history. Clua handles the unfolding details with compassion, dipping occasionally into the realm of the melodramatic. Considering the dark subject matter, there is also a surprising amount of humor.

The play touches on many themes, not the least of which is the importance of accepting others for who they are.

The performances of the two actors are impeccable. Soledad Lopez imbues Amelia with a steel exterior, the better to cover her inner pain. She is at her glorious best clutching a photo album and reliving, in dance, a memory from her past.

As Ramon, Josean Ortiz matches her intensity. He has a long, emotionally charged monologue in which he recounts for Amelia devastating events that he lived through, and tops himself in describing the last moments in the life of a loved one.

The play has been staged simply by Luis Caballero, who wisely lets the actors and their often poetic words speak for themselves, without any fancy adornments to distract. Similarly, his setting, depicting two rooms, is efficient without being overbearing, and his lighting helps set the right tone.

The play’s single overriding message, if one must be offered, is that humans are distinguished from other living creatures by our capacity to feel the pain of others. And, in watching this performance, it is likely that your sense of humanity will be fully awakened.

On a related note, the documentary film “Raul Julia: The World’s a Stage,” an insightful look into the life of the late Puerto Rican actor, which had its premiere on PBS on Sept. 13, was filmed, in part, at the Thalia. The theater’s artistic and executive director, Angel Gil Orrios, is featured in the film, which is well worth catching.

‘La Golondrina’
When: Each Fri., Sat., 8 p.m.; each Sun., 4 p.m., through Oct. 13
Where: Thalia Spanish Theatre, 41-17 Greenpoint Ave., Sunnyside
Tickets: $25. (718) 729-3880,

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