BY MIA LEONIN
Special to The Miami Herald
Special to The Miami Herald
To fully appreciate Teatro en Miami's production of Los acosados(The Harassed), a dark Spanish-language comedy written by Matías Montes Huidobro and astutely directed by Ernesto García, you have to take a long look not just at the theater's stage but at its ceiling.
Among the ornate golden picture frames and mahogany chairs that hang by thin threads from the ceiling, you'll see bills -- lots of them. Some are in white business-size envelopes with the unmistakable plastic windows. Others hang like ticker tape, but as the male and female protagonists (energetically portrayed by Christian Ocón and Ivette Kellems) snatch them from the ceiling and victoriously throw them to the floor, we realize that these also represent payments due.
Besides resourcefully solving the challenge of Teatro en Miami Studio's compact yet intimate digs, the set design mirrors one of the play's central equations: Topsy-turvy priorities and greed combined with unlimited credit create skyrocketing debt.
As the play opens, Kellems and Ocón, a white collar couple dressed in drab gray suits, pay for an outrageously expensive bedroom set with credit. For the next hour, they swing wildly from covetous longing to buyer's remorse, raising the question: Do we own our material possessions or do they own us?
García has modernized Huidobro's text, which was originally intended to comment on life in prerevolutionary Cuba, but the vicious cycle it depicts remains relevant and timelier than ever. On a stage that is barren except for two golden toilets seats on wheels, Kellems and Ocón gloomily pull bills from one extravagant commode and deposit them in the other.
The two successfully mine the emotional territory of their characters' despair by coloring their performances with shades of fleeting joy, fatigue and bursts of anger.
Likewise, García manages to represent monotony without becoming monotonous by interspersing moments of dance-like physical gestures throughout the otherwise dialogue-driven one act. Set to heavy industrial music, these interludes underscore the daily grind of the work world in a fresh way.
In other moments, though, García's use of sound effects and music threaten to drown out the actors' performances. On several occasions, as the couple's emotional dialogue hits a high note, so does the music. This feels like an unnecessary cue to the audience. Likewise, sound effects such as silverware clanking and water being poured feel a bit gimmicky.
Otherwise, Los acosados is a pleasant surprise. It's so in sync with the nation's current economic crisis that its timing could hardly be better. It also embodies the paradox of a classic comedy: It's sharp enough to remind us of our deepest flaws but funny enough to make us forget them.
IF YOU GO
What:Los acosados by Matías Montes Huidobro
Where: Teatro en Miami Studio, 2500 SW Eighth St., Miami, through Nov. 22 When: 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday Cost: $20 Info: 305-551-7473 or http://www.teatroenmiami.org/