Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
On the surface, Espejos: Clean, the season opener at Washington's Studio Theatre, is a story about two women who simply are unable to communicate with each other. What is remarkable about Christine Quintana's play is that the lack of communication is literal: Adriana (Legna Cedillo) works in hospitality at a resort in Cancun, Mexico, while Sarah (Lauren Karaman) is a hotel guest from Vancouver, British Columbia, who doesn't speak or understand Spanish. Studio, and director Elena Araoz, innovate by projecting simultaneous translation of both women's lines in real time, projected on the rear wall of Raul Abrego's simple set.
Of course, both women are dealing with personal issues. Adriana left her contentious life in a rural Mexican town and, through hard work, has built a career and a life where she "makes clean what was dirty." That becomes graphically obvious after Sarah, the (self-identified) hot mess of her family, suffers a bloody injury while drunkenly leaving a resort bar. More to the point, Sarah and her family are in Cancun for the destination wedding of her younger sister and everyone expects her to fail at her maid of honor duties.
This would seem to be enough drama for one play, but both women are also coping with buried traumas and guilts from their past. On some deep level, each can sense the damage in the other, but they can't tell their stories (or explain behavior misunderstood by the other) because they don't have the language to communicate.
Through her direction, Araoz makes the audience see the invisible other characters in the two women's stories. The verbal descriptions of unseen places and events come through vividly through the actors' interactions and understated stage effects: Luis Garcia's projections depicting clouds, surf, and warm tropical rain; Daniel Ocanto's encompassing sound design; Alberto Segarra's lighting design, with its unexpected flashes of neon color; and Christopher Vergara's perfect costumes.
At first, the characters seem like cliches the self-satisfied North American condescending to the locals but then the darker side kicks in. Karaman reveals Sarah's scary, vindictive side while Cedillo ably shows how Adriana makes her way through a tangle of determination, desire, fear, and exasperation.
Espejos: Clean runs through October 22, 2023, at Studio Theatre, Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.
By Christine Quintana