Pep Munoz, Luis Carlos de la Lombana, Zulema Clares, and Silvia Sierra in LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA.
BOTTOM LINE: The first stage adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s much lauded work does justice to the text, mostly through a talented cast and the fact that it’s performed in its original language.
When Love in the Time of Cholera was first adapted into a feature film back in 2007 it was met with mixed reviews despite the fact that the novel itself had been largely lauded and had garnered the Nobel prize. Some critics suggested perhaps that the disconnect between the page and screen came from the fact that the film didn’t use the original language of the novel. In Repertorio Español’s original production of Love in the Time of Cholera (the first theatrical adaptation of the work) the beauty of the work’s original language is preserved, with captions provided for English speakers, so that they can appreciate the sound of the original language while still deriving the meaning of each line.
The story in Love in the Time of Cholera centers on Colombians Florentino (Luis Carlos de la Lombana) and Fermina (Zulema Clares), who first become infatuated with each other as starry eyed teenagers. The story spans 50 years of the two living lives separate from one another. The two exchange notes in secret, with Florentino eventually proposing. Fermina’s father, however, forbids the match as Florentino is from a lower class and whisks Fermina away to a far off locale, although the two still communicate in secret via telegram. Fermina holds a candle for Florentino for two years, only to have her affections swayed by a doctor, Juvenal (Pep Munoz) whom her father deems more suitable. While the two initially seem happy, their passion soon dies with time and Fermina is left suffering through unpalatable eggplant dishes made to please his mother and the noise of her husband’s obnoxious parrot. Florentino, meanwhile, seems incapable of loving another, and since he cannot have the woman he loves, he becomes a sex addict, bedding over 600 women, all of whom he casts aside with little emotion. When Juvenal dies after trying to rescues his parrot from a tree, Florentino may finally have his chance to get the woman he has been desiring for 50 years.
The fact that the actors all take on multiple roles, with the sole exception of Clares, creates a bit of confusion at some points, although it also serves as testament to the obvious talent of the cast. Most notable among the multiple role casting is the fact that De la Lombana takes on the role of both Fermina’s love interest as well as her father. When the two quarrel over what is best for Fermina, De la Lombana portrays both roles, leaping from one side of the stage to the other to show both characters. Despite his best efforts, however, the two characters become blurred into one as the fight grows in momentum. The portrayal of multiple roles also affects the meaning in a scene where Fermina and her cousin Hildebranda practice thrusting their hips in anticipation for sex. When De la Lombana appears we cannot be sure if this is her father in shock over seeing his daughter expressing her sexual desire, Florentino appearing to Fermina in a vision, or perhaps it is her father who then morphs into a vision of Florentino. The multiple roles works far better for the other actors, who are not in the lead roles, even when Munoz plays a woman, and Sierra plays Florentino’s mother at one moment and his lover the next.
The play is also interwoven with some entrancing original musical numbers, which despite being unevenly distributed, aid in setting a tone of passion and magic. These numbers serve to showcase Sierra’s vocal talent and De la Lombana’s comedic skill. Jane Shaw’s sound design also serves to make up for a sparse set by providing such tone setting sounds as heavy rainfall and evocative musical melodies.
As an English speaker with only a rudimentary grasp of Spanish, entering a theater where the only spoken language is Spanish is both daunting and exhilarating, providing the sensation of having ventured into a foreign country. The usher, ticket seller, concession seller and even fellow audience members only spoke to me in Spanish and I managed to comprehend most of what was said. The captioning system also worked well for the most part, keeping time with the actors’ line delivery. When it comes to works like Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, portraying it in Spanish seems to be most authentic way to capture the beauty of the author’s original words.
(Love in the Time of Cholera plays at Repertorio Espanol, 138 East 27th Street, through April 20, 2012. Performance times vary but generally are Mondays at 7PM; Tuesdays at 11AM; Wednesdays at 7PM; Thursdays at 7PM; Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 2:30PM. Tickets start at $33 (with group discounts) and are available at repertorio.org or by calling 212.225.9999.)