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Paola Lazaro’s playwriting debut, set in Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan, contains an awful lot of plot. The steamy tropical climate seems to have affected the work’s troubled characters grappling with numerous personal issues including alcoholism, drug addiction and, most prominently, love. Teeming with colorful incidents and provocative dialogue, Tell Hector I Miss Him presents a vivid depiction of the island setting and its inhabitants. The play, receiving its world premiere at Off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company, reveals a young playwright of considerable talent, who needs to gain some discipline in her storytelling style.
Beginning with a scene of torrid (offstage) copulation, the play concerns the interwoven lives of a dozen members of the tight-knit community. They include: shopkeeper Mostro (Juan Carlos Hernandez), who spends his free time listening to self-help tapes; his unhappy wife Samira (Selenis Leyva, Orange is the New Black), who’s having an affair with drug dealer Jeison (Victor Almanzar); teenage Tono (Alexander Flores), recently kicked out of school for sexually harassing his teacher; La Gata (Talene Monahon), a young American woman who wanders the neighborhood inexplicably meowing like a cat; and Palito (Sean Carvajal), mentally addled because of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Composed of short vignettes, the play features numerous plotlines that waver in holding our attention. Among the more interesting involves 17-year-old Isis (a very funny Yadira Guevara-Prip), who becomes romantically obsessed with the sexy Malena (Dascha Polanco, also of OITNB). Isis ardently pursues the object of her desire even while Malena tells her that she’s not gay, telling her love interest that her body “smells like a walk through the most beautiful botanical garden in the most exotic place in the world.”
Many other scenes — such as those involving a coke addict (Flaco Navaja); a street magician/drug dealer (Luis Vega); and Tono’s alcoholic mother (Lisa Ramirez) — are less affecting, resulting in an evening of theater that feels too long.
Alongside melodramatic moments are some terrific ones with biting dark humor, such as when Jeison turns to Mostro for help after Samira has ended the affair. “You want me to give you advice on how to deal with my life?” an incredulous Mostro asks. “Yeah, man, cause you’re her husband … I thought you would know her the best,” Jeison tells him. Another comic highlight is the scene in which Isis, Malena, and Malena’s best friend Tati (Analisa Velez) compare and contrast their vaginas.
Under the assured staging of David Mendizabal, the play certainly feels lived-in. Numerous snippets of dialogue are delivered in Spanish, and the nearly all-Hispanic ensemble deliver consistently strong performances. And while Tell Hector I Miss Him would have benefited from a sharper focus and judicious trimming, it contains much to admire, and makes you eagerly anticipate the playwright’s next effort.
Venue: Atlantic Theater Company’s Stage 2, New York
Cast: Victor Almanzar, Sean Carvajal, Alexander Flores, Yadira Guevara-Prip, Juan Carlos Hernandez, Selenis Leyva, Talene Monahon, Flaco Navaja, Dascha Polanco, Lisa Ramirez, Luis Vega, Analisa Velez
Playwright: Paola Lazaro
Director: David Mendizabal
Set designer: Clint Ramos
Costume designer: Dede M. Ayite
Lighting designer: Eric Southern
Sound designer: Jesse Mandapat
Presented by the Atlantic Theater Compan
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