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Gender War Waged In Two Languages
By Steve Dollar
June 8, 2003
As a topic for drama or comedy, it never ceases to inspire. The battle of the sexes, that is.
The ever-provocative theme gets the bilingual treatment in the latest production by the Thalia Spanish Theatre, "Nosotras Lo Hacemos Mejor" ("We Women Do It Better"). Written by Puerto Rican playwright Roberto Ramos-Perea, the 90-minute monologue takes the guise of a self-help workshop led by a psychologist who deconstructs the often-tangled and contradictory dynamics of male-female relationships through a long, autobiographical reflection.
The show, which runs through June 29 at the 90-seat theater in Sunnyside, takes a slightly different approach to Thalia's policy of staging productions in both Spanish and English (on alternating nights). Artistic director Angel Gil Orrios considered the work so demanding - "It's a tour-de-force performance," he says - that he cast a different actress for each language: theater mainstay Soledad López (who takes the role for the Spanish-language shows) and Merel Juliá, wife of the late actor Raúl Juliá, who returns to the stage after 20 years away raising her children.
"Somehow, I consider this the answer to John Leguizamo's show, the female version," Juliá says, sitting in the lobby after her first performance, a preview attended by a small audience of family and friends. Leguizamo, the popular actor and monologuist, grew up in a Puerto Rican and Colombian household not far away in Jackson Heights. He has made a good part of his name in outrageous one-man shows such as "Freak" and "Sexaholix: A Love Story," in which he regales audiences with X-rated sagas of his path to masculine enlightenment. "We Women Do It Better" is vastly milder in tone and content but covers similar ground, as the psychologist recounts her life as a woman, from naive teenager groping to an unhappy marriage with a husband obsessed with his ex-wife, and beyond.
Unlike, say, "The Vagina Monologues," which expresses a similar sisterhood-is-powerful message, this piece was generated by the other gender. "It certainly is interesting to have a play about a woman not written by a woman but a man," says Orrios, who adds that the play was revised after its initial production in Puerto Rico when the playwright had the experience of directing an actress in the work and registering her feedback. "I think it captures both points of view."
So is it a pure critique of machismo? "The situation can take place anywhere," Orrios says. "The theme is universal."
Observes Juliá: "It's not just a tirade of women's liberation. It's not heavy- handed. It's saying you've got to take responsibility for your own life."
Yet, the choice of this type of production - a one-person show - also reflects some economic responsibility. Cuts in city and borough government funding for the arts cost Thalia about $50,000, approximately 10 percent of its annual budget, that otherwise would have bankrolled its current season. And next year, Orrios says he is looking at a 19 percent cut. "This season has been difficult for us," he says. The roster of productions includes folkloric spectacles drawn from various Hispanic cultures and original tango musicals featuring the bandoneón player Raul Jaurena, who just headlined two concerts at the 1,100-seat Millennium Theatre in Brighton Beach that Thalia was involved in promoting. But Orrios says he was forced to cut the present season from six shows to five. And "We Women Do It Better," which originally had been scheduled for next season, was shuffled into the current one because it was less expensive to produce.
However, Orrios says he's loved the play since first encountering its writer in Spain two years ago. He's a big fan of the one-woman show as a subgenre, mentioning Tovah Feldshuh's performance in "Golda," for instance. "There is a long tradition in Europe of important monologues," he says. "And it's becoming more popular over here. Every time a great actress can find a great vehicle, they should do it."
"We Women Do It Better," Sundays at 4 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., in Spanish; Thursdays at 8 p.m. (except 3 p.m. June 26) and Saturdays at 3 p.m. in English. Tickets: $20 weekdays, $25 weekends ($22 students and seniors). Thalia Spanish Theatre is at 41-17 Greenpoint Ave., Sunnyside, 718-729-3880 or www.thaliatheatre.org.