Theater Review: Adentro at Aguijón Theater

Adentro, written by Abel González Melo and directed by Sandor Menéndez, is playing at Aguijón Theater with English and Spanish performances running through November 18.

Showing this month at the Aguijón Theater near the north side Cragin neighborhood is talented Cuban playwright Abel González Melo’s new play Adentro.The play is being presented as part of the theater’s Voces Caribeñas Project, and is directed by Sándor Menéndez, who also plays the protagonist in the Spanish version of the play. Originally written in Spanish, it was translated into English by Marcela Muñoz, who also stars in the play. The production and venue of the play are so intimate that the actors and director are also involved in the behind the scenes work. Spanish and English language performances (with a bit of Spanish here and there) will be showing throughout the next several weeks. If you have the chance and linguistic capability to see the play in Spanish, I would recommend to do so because the story, which takes place in Cuba, might feel more authentic as opposed to dubbed. However, Adentro’s English translation was quite well done, and should surely open up the play’s audience considerably. I hope this is true because one of the play’s strong points was its accessibility and making seemingly isolated characters into figures who are as complicated as they are relatable.

In his author’s note, playwright Abel González Melo tells the audience of a fascinating event that influenced him and the writing of Adentro. Following a description of this event, in which a young man was curiously approached by a multitude of strangers while sitting alone on a park bench, Melo’s note ends by touching upon some main themes of Adentro:

“Behind the silent events I sensed something desperate and unexpected in those people, as if they possessed some shared sorrow or some secret on the verge of bursting…I wanted to lend them [a] body and voice, but first I wrote for you who understands within.”

In Adentro (Within in English) the sense of something about to burst is immediately apparent. It is clear is that much hangs over the heads of the play’s four characters: Daniel, his brother Enrique, their more-than-just-a-friend Aleorka, and the brothers’ mother Victoria. This desperation manifests itself in the actions and words of the characters, and notably in a murder that is a primary focus of the play.

The play begins with Victoria weeping from exhaustion and pain both physical and emotional. Carrying a bucket of water and using it to wash her sons, she tells tells the audience about them and laments the their fates and that of her family. The rest of the characters chime in about the family situation, but at first it is not totally clear what their fate is, as much of their language is conceptual and self-reflective. The share a precarious desperation, which comes through in their enigmatic descriptions of feelings and reactions to people, their lifestyles and events — and in particular to a murder that Daniel committed. Though no one, not even Daniel, denies that he committed this crime, everyone has an opinion about it and about him. His mother Victoria is concerned for him, his brother Enrique resents him and his intimate friend Aleorka feels for him. Yet, the audience still gets the feeling that something is amiss; that there are secrets to be revealed and truth to be discovered about this family and about the murder.

What the story’s characters are concerned with, however, is not so much what happened, but why. Why would Daniel, an introverted and troubled but otherwise decent boy, do this? What is it that makes him and the other people have certain reactions or make certain decisions? Is it the heat; the need to cool down in a town with frequent blackouts? Is it the frustration of wanting something more — perhaps even something one can’t have? Is the the memories and pain that have accumulated like moss on a rock? The buckets of water that each of the characters has is profound as one of only a few props used in this rather minimalist play. The buckets are used to sit on, as a container for water to wash or cool down and as physical manifestations of the things that each person carries on their shoulders and inside themselves. Aleorka, who is something of a foil and scapegoat for Victoria and a love interest and rupture point for the two brothers, touches upon this toward the end of the play when she advises the brother, presumed murderer, and man who she loves, Daniel, about his tattoos and his anxieties. She says, “We hide a lot of things under the skin…everyone carries good and bad things with them.”

As the play turns raw emotions, paranoias and abstractions to concrete memories, stories and retelling of facts, some truth comes to light about how this family has fallen apart and what drove Daniel to kill. Notwithstanding, the motives behind the murder in question become more clear, even as some details surrounding the actual murder become disputed amongst the characters. Their desires, agonies, bodies as well as and their strained relationships amongst themselves and collective relationship with their homeland makes any sense of clarity and control ripple in and out of the murky story. The format of voice and control is mainly from apparent inner monologues, confessions, and crisis conversations from front and center of the stage. But while one character speaks, the secret actions and sorrow of other characters often lurk in the background behind a transparent facade of the town. This facade makes up almost the entirety of the built set and is utilized well by director Sándor Menéndez. It seems that there is nowhere really for the characters, especially Daniel, to hide besides in the darkest corners of the town and of themselves. As a result, silence among Daniel, Enrique, Aleorka and Victoria festers into worry and misery that afflicts all of them. This serves only to bring them each of them to the edge; to the verge of bursting. It’s an edge from which they will decide to jump, run or stay together.