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A Night at the Teatro, Dahling…

By Natalia de Cuba Romero

June 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Myrna Casas is throwing a yearlong series of fortieth birthday parties and this weekend we all have a chance to attend one of the functions.

Myrna, one of Puerto Rico’s finest and most accomplished playwrights, founded Producciones Cisne with Josie Pérez and Gilda Navarra in 1963. Incredibly, 40 years later Cisne is still going strong, traveling the island and going overseas with original works as well as classics. And Cisne has also presented overseas theater companies here.

This weekend’s celebratory performances by New York’s Pregones Theater at the Carlos Marichal Hall of the Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center in Santurce are a perfect example of how Myrna and Cisne have managed over the years to develop theater on and off the island, particularly between Puerto Rico and its suburbs — the Five Boroughs of New York.

Pregones, founded in 1978 by Puerto Rican artists in the Gran Manzana, has since become a powerhouse of Latino theater, performing and touring incessantly. They are, in fact, in the process of raising funds for the first phase of their own permanent 125-seat theater in the Bronx.

As it happens, one of the founders of Pregones, the late Luis I. Meléndez, was a student of Myrna’s. Another founder, David Crommett, was Myrna’s buddy. And the third founder and current artistic director, Rosalba Rolón, was soon to follow in this friendship.

And while Pregones was showing how Puerto Rican-New York theater could grow and thrive, Myrna was busy collecting awards for original plays like El gran circo eucraniano (The Great Ukrainian Circus — Puerto Rico Theater Critics Circle Award winner in 1993) and Este país no existe (This Country Doesn’t Exist — Miami Art Critics Association award for best visiting performance in 1994) and presenting Puerto Rican theater in such prestigious venues as Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Wait ‘till you hear how deep the connections run.

This weekend’s program includes Mi última noche con Rubén Blades (My Last Night with Rubén Blades) and For mi Chichí (For My Chichí), one act plays by none other than Tere Martínez, another former student of Myrna’s. Tere, who graduated in theater from the Drama Department of the University of Puerto Rico, started her professional career with Cisne. Now she resides in New York. Her first work, based on Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican, has traveled the United States and her plays are part of the Pregones repertory. And the lighting designer is ACE award winner Alván Colón-Lespier, another former student of Myrna Casa’s. Plus, a team from Pregones spent a whole semester of 2002 at UPR working with the students on their play Gení y el Zeplin (Gení and the Zeppelin). Between that and several UPR performances over the years, this is just one happy family of aquí y allá (here and there).

Mi última noche is about Yanira (played by Tere), a Puerto Rican woman who migrates to New York. In her job as a cleaning woman, the music of Rubén Blades is her bus ticket to happy fantasies. In the comical For mi Chichí, a Dominican woman names Dylcia (Rosie Berrido) takes Spanish lessons in New York from a Puerto Rican teacher (Judith Rivera).

El apagón (the Blackout) is the final and longer piece. Adapted by Rosalba Rolón from La noche que volvimos a ser gente (The Night We Became People Again), a story by José Luis González, it has evolved from a monologue into a work for two people and José Joaquín García and Jorge Merced) with live music to boot. The blackout in question is that doozy of a power outage in New York and the northeastern US in 1965 or thereabouts that left people stranded all over. In this case, one of the protagonists is stuck in the subway as his wife is giving birth.

The show played last week to rave reviews — El Nuevo Día’s Jorge Martínez Solá called it "simply sensational." Other key vocabulary in his review: "Excellent" "marvelous" "fascinating" "comical" "superlative creativity". So Jorge really liked it.

I’ll be seeing this work for the first time on Saturday night, but I know Pregones very well. In fact, they were an important part of my masters thesis at Columbia many years ago (my thesis was pretty bad, but that’s not their fault) and I’ve written about them a number of times over the years. Their work is excellent and funny and poignant without fail. And they bring to us here on the island an important view into the lives of the Puerto Rican diaspora. So I absolutely can’t wait to see them on stage again.

It is an important moment in Puerto Rican theater. When two long-lived theater companies from either side of the puddle can mutually nourish one another and bring together voices and visions to reflect the duality of the Puerto Rican experience and celebrate 40 years of great theater, it is something to see. And if they can make it funny and there’s live music — well that’s just irresistible.

So I hope you’ll join me in wishing Producciones Cisne a happy 40th and enjoy a night of good theater while you’re at it.

Cisne presenta a Pregones plays at Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center (Bellas Artes) on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 of June at 8:30 pm and Sunday at 3:30 pm. Tickets are available at Bellas Artes or by calling 787-620-4444. If you’re not around for this, Myrna’s latest work, Tres Noches Tropicales y una vida de infierno with the fabulous Angela Meyer playing three hilarious roles, will be performed at Bellas Artes from 22-31 August.

Natalia de Cuba Romero is a freelance travel, food and arts writer. Her column, "Sights, Sounds & Tastes of Puerto Rico", appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald. She can be reached at

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