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THEATER REVIEW

Thalia founder revives award-winning play

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Five successful women reunite more than two decades after leaving boarding school. They share a few drinks and a few laughs. They talk about their lives and loves and unearth some buried treasures, including bitter resentments. Eventually, one leaves and the rest pull closer together.

With this scenario from Santiago Moncada's "Entre Mujeres" Thalia Spanish Theatre in Sunnyside offers its audience an evening of warm entertainment and pays fitting tribute to the leadership of Silvia Brito. After 23 years as the company's artistic director, Brito will retire this year. Her contribution to the Spanish-speaking community of New York will leave it closer and richer.

Directed by Brito, "Entre Mujeres," is the revival of Thalia's 1994 ACE Award-winning production and stars its original cast. Performances run Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 12.

In "Mujeres," Elena (Fanny Rabyn) has invited her friends to her home because she received an anonymous letter that one of them is sleeping with her husband. The five characters discuss their relationships with each other and the choices they have made with the maturity of middle age, something seen all too rarely on stages.

Nothing shocks these women, and their camaraderie is founded upon solid respect for one another. Luisa (Virginia Rambal), a self-described high-class prostitute, jokes about the high concentration of billionaires in Geneva but listens seriously as her friend Hortensia (Susana Crisan) speaks of a school love affair with one of the other women.

While Luisa develops into the evening's leading entertainer and Rambal wins the audience over with her delightful portrait, the performances are all strong. Rybin's Elena brings unexpected strength and dignity to a quiet role. Cecill Villar, as the slightly acerbic Amelia and Soledad Lopez in the role of Carlota, the aloof, embittered writer, expand the ensemble's dimensions.

Brito's direction is clean and simple, revealing only minimal effort to comment on the text - with good reason. Spanish playwright Santiago Moncada seems to effortlessly blend the gravity and wit of the European modernists with the easy candor of contemporary television culture. Frank discussions of sex and the uncovering of affairs remain the evening's focus without ever existing as a means to introduce gratuitous titillation.

Brito is drawn to the work that gives full expression to emotional realities. She concedes that she finds female characters "have expression to emotional realities. She concedes that she finds female characters "have more to give" in most Spanish plays than male characters. Such thinking may also lie behind her attraction to more mature characters.

"For me," she says, "Moncada is the best playwright in Spain right now. Though he has stopped writing now, the two plays we have done of his are so witty and so deep at the same time."

Brito adds that Moncada is expected to attend this revival of "Mujeres."

"Mujeres" offers Thalia's faithful a pleasant and easy diversion without being vapid. Though not revolutionary, the production addresses the audience as intelligent beings who expect to be entertained at the theater. It sounds simple, but few established companies in Manhattan can claim as much.

For 23 years, Thalia has been serving a vast and varied community of Spanish speakers with vital and thoughtful professional productions, and its success and significance are largely the result of one woman's work. Brito has served as the theater's artistic director since it first came to life. She has won awards from the city and state for both her production and management skills. She travels to Spain almost annually to meet playwrights and update her files on current work.

Before the end of her term, Brito will also present a new flamenco program with Andrea Del Conte Danza Espana, a Thalia regular for more than a decade.

While dialogue among five women seems an apt choice for a grand farewell from the director, Brito claims she did not choose it for that reason. "I really do love the play," she says simply, "And I really love the actresses. They gave me a lot of pleasure five years ago, and I wanted to bring them all back together."

Though she parts with a nod to the past, Brito is looking forward. She anticipates with evident pleasure becoming a "tourist" after December when she will hand over the Thalia's reins to Angel Gil Orrios. The Spanish director who succeeds Brito as artistic director has had a long relationship with the company and has been living and directing in the New York area for 20 years. More importantly, in Brito's view, he brings the necessary energy to the job.

"I don't think I have the energy for the new millennium," explains the retiring 65- year-old.

Of course, looking at the vigor of the five women in "Entre Mujeres" it is hard to believe her.

"Between Women" the 1994 ACE Award-winning comedy by Santiago Moncada, will be performed from Nov. 13-Dec. 12 at the Thalia Spanish Theatre, Inc., 41-17 Greenpoint Ave., Sunnyside. "Flamenco" with Andrea del Conte Danza Espana will run from Nov. 19-Dec. 10, Fridays only, at 8 p.m. Call 729-3880.

Moncada, will be performed from Nov. 13-Dec. 12 at the Thalia Spanish Theatre, Inc., 41-17 Greenpoint Ave., Sunnyside. "Flamenco" with Andrea del Conte Danza Espana will run from Nov. 19-Dec. 10, Fridays only, at 8 p.m. Call 729-3880.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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