By AMY J. BARRY Special to the Day
Teatro Latino de New London celebrates the artistic legacy of Latin culture throughout the world - and right here in the city - in a production featuring local performers that premieres on July 15 at the Custom House Maritime Museum.
Titled "Songs for Dance and Theater," the program was inspired by the recent publication by University Press of America of the revised edition of "El Gaucho Vegetariano and Other Plays for Students of Spanish."
The plays in the book are by Teatro Latino's founding director Resurrección Espinosa, a playwright, poet, Spanish language teacher and teaching artist with the state Office of the Arts. Songs are by Espinosa's husband, Charles Frink, the theater's music director, who taught social studies for 30 years at New London High School.
Two scenes featured in the book will be performed by Erick Carrion, Teatro Latino's assistant director, majoring in theater at Sacred Heart University in Puerto Rico; Michael Crane, a junior at Mitchell College, who's been with the theater since fifth grade; and Berenith Ruperto, a student at New London High School.
"They are both semi-historical plays based on either a historical figure or a historical fact," Espinosa explains.
One scene is from a play set in the 17th century, based on the "Widow and Virgin," a legend from the south of Spain where Espinosa grew up. It will be performed in Spanish.
"It's a sort of Romeo and Juliet story," Espinosa says, "but, of course, the story is really about personal choice and the consequences of personal choice."
The other scene is from "Fidel's Dilemma," a play about events in more modern history that will be performed in English. The comedy takes place after Castro won a baseball championship in Havana and is throwing a party.
"He has two girlfriends and they don't know (which one) will be invited," Espinosa says. "Fidel had a lot of girlfriends - he won some kind of Guinness World Record. It's a phone conversation between him and the girlfriends - with the switchboard operator listening in - it's really funny."
Dancer D'Andrea Knox will interpret the scenes and songs in the production through self-choreographed movement. A graduate of Fitch High School, Knox is a massage therapist at Therapeutic Touch Massage in Niantic and is studying psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University.
"Andrea is African-American Latina and a really beautiful dancer in every sense of the word," Frink says. "As a massage therapist, she works on people's emotions as well as the pains they have in their body. She's concerned with mind and body in relationship, and it shows in her dance. What she does is intensely expressive and gives additional dimension to the music and lyrics."
Adelaida Florenciani, a 2004 New London High School graduate, will sing four songs composed by Frink, who will accompany her on piano.
"Adelaida has remained connected to Teatro Latino - and was in a dance group we put together (called) Mambo Latino," Espinosa says. "Charles trained some of these people who were dancers and have excellent voices. She's very, very good."
Florenciani will sing "Ay, ay, ay de la Grifa Negra" (Ay, ay, ay of the Kinky-Haired Negress) with lyrics by Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos.
"Julia de Burgos was of mixed race: Puerto Rican and black. She wrote, 'That my grandfather was a slave is my sorrow, had he been the master, it would have been my shame,'" Espinosa says. "I think it ties very well to what the Amistad was all about, and that's why we chose the Custom House for the first performance."
"It's quite African in melody and harmony," Frink adds. "If you didn't know it was written by a Swamp Yankee (me), you would have thought it came out of Africa."
The lyrics to the song "Rio Grande de Loiza" (Loiza's Big River) also are by de Burgos.
The lyrics of "La voz de Poesia" are by Espinosa and, Frink says, include the central line of the whole program: "Vendre ese dia en que no haya sol. Mi luz es tu sendero." (I'll come the day when there is no sun. My light is your path).
Frink wrote the lyrics for the final song, "El Gaucho Vegetariano," (The Vegetarian Cowboy) that takes its title from Espinosa's book.
"Of course this isn't an ordinary cowboy," he says. "It's a cheerful and lively song, but the words have a very serious point. A vegetarian gaucho is someone living in an effort to create a life of peace and nonviolence."
Espinosa points out that this new production ties into Teatro Latino's mission that includes "promoting mutual understanding among people of diverse background and languages; improving self esteem among members of minority groups by presenting works that represent their cultures; making theater available to people who can't afford an entrance fee; and also integrating all segments of the population into the life of the city in order to preserve culture and reduce economic and ethnic isolation."
"Songs for Dance and Theater," 3 p.m. Sunday, the Custom House, 150 Bank St., New London; free and open to the public; also, 6 p.m. July 27, Expressiones Cultural Center, New London, and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 30, New London Public Library; (860) 705-3163 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.