BY MIA LEONIN
Special to The Miami Herald
It's no mistake that Teatro en Miami Studio (Spanish-language theater's Little Engine That Could), chose Ernesto García's El Celador del Desierto (The Guardian of the Desert) to commemorate the company's second year in its cozy Little Havana black box. Teatro has produced more than 15 plays in only two years -- eight of them penned by García -- and El Celador underscores the Cuban-born playwright's stylistic proclivity to high lyricism.
The Spanish-language one-act, also directed by García, debuted six years ago. The new version, now with English supertitles, must adjust to a much smaller stage, but it still represents Teatro's trademark tendency toward the fantastic and often allegorical.
Magdalena (Anniamary Martínez), a young, desert-wandering fugitive, has run out of places to hide when she comes across a mysterious old desert hag named Senil Lengüita (Senile Little Tongue) portrayed by Sandra García. Dressed in tatters, her face shadowed with fatigue and filth, the old woman reaches into her rickety cart and offers the parched, starving girl food and drink. Magdalena proposes to help pull Lengüita's cart in exchange for a bag of coins. Thus begins a dialogue that eventually unravels Magdalena's violent tale of vengeance and flight, as well as the old woman's own secrets.
A tightly choreographed dance and movement series at the beginning of the play and toward the end is energetically executed by Martínez, Leandro Peraza, Carlos Bueno and Marcia Stadler. Their macabre costumes and masks set the scene of a desolate, almost haunted desert, but the driving force of El Celador is the dialogue between the two women.
Draped in rags and covered in grime, the old woman and her young cohort snarl, growl and snap at each other. Lengüita squats like a mischievous Buddha. When she opens her mouth and sticks out her tongue, Magdalena impatiently feeds her coins, anxious to hear the story of the world that existed before the endless desert. What follows is an allegorical Garden-of-Eden tale that culminates in Lengüita's memory of a city that once basked in imperial greatness, but was slowly undone by its own greed and carelessness.
Martínez convincingly vacillates from desperation to fierceness as she struggles to overpower the grip Lengüita seems to hold over the desert wasteland and its mysteries. García delivers her lines with characteristic thunder, but she also brings an added humor to the role. This gives Lengüita a touching vulnerability by the play's end.
Besides passing the torch of memory from one generation to the next, the play's ending is inconclusive, echoing the existentialism of Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
El Celador's English supertitles render a poetic translation that corresponds well with the original text in Spanish, making it accessible to English-speaking audiences. Moreover, it's a vivid window into a vein of theater from a Latin American tradition where the absurd and fantastic reign.
IF YOU GO
What: ``El Celador del Desierto (The Guardian of the Desert)'' by Ernesto García
Where: Teatro en Miami Studio, 2500 SW Eighth St., Miami, through Aug. 22
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Info: 305-551-7473 or http://www.teatroenmiami.org/