Santa Fe’s stages are bursting with activity these next few weeks, and it was a feat to narrow the upcoming offerings down to just a page’s worth of previews. In other words: If you’re bored, you simply aren’t even trying.
SFR caught up with Robert Benedetti of the New Mexico Actors Lab, which closes its 2017 season with the light-hearted Heisenberg. For some, the play's title conjures quite serious notions of theories in quantum physics or Walter White's sinister alter ego in Breaking Bad, but the show is, in fact, a funny study of the uncertainties of an inter-generational relationship.
Like many excellent productions in Santa Fe this year, the play has a small cast. Debrianna Mansini is Georgie, a 30-something manic-pixie-dream-girl who falls in love with Jonathan Richards’ Alex, a reserved man some 40 years her senior; their relationship blossoms into a give-and-take full of tenderness and probing. The tight quarters of Teatro Paraguas further draws the audience in to the action, and director Benedetti prefers it this way.
"The smaller the cast, the better the individual actors need to be. There's no place to hide," he says. "I was a film producer for almost 20 years, and I like filmic acting. Small detail, very deeply personal, intimate. The small space that we work in has that kind of intimacy that permits us to do it. There's a lot of personal exposure involved; you need to be working from a very deep place within yourself."
He says, by his count, about 60 percent of Pulitzer-winning plays can be performed with four or fewer people. "It's a form that challenges writers," he says; "it's like the difference between writing symphonies and writing chamber music. There are special skills involved in small-cast writing. … Being able to fashion an entire story and give it momentum and a satisfying dramatic shape with only three or four voices is a tremendous challenge."
Getting Heisenberg, by the way, was a feat; it is fresh off Broadway and it was tough to secure the rights. Benedetti says he was able to finally acquire permission to put it on "by just bothering the rights-holders a lot." We see yet again that persistence has paid off, both for Georgie courting Alex and Benedetti courting his script.
7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays July 13-29; 2 pm Sundays July 16-30. $15-$20.
3205 Calle Marie,
424-1601; tickets via NM Actors Lab.
Another production going up in the next couple weeks is perhaps not theater as we are used to it, but it is certainly a theatrical production. Local singer Nacha Mendez is best known around town for buttery vocals and deft guitar when she performs Latin tunes over tapas. Last autumn, however, a serious illness had her in the hospital and confined to bed to recover, and the prolific performer was forced to slow her roll for a few months. As would be expected from an artist, a new project came out of it.
Love Letter to Frida
is the end result of Mendez’ musings on Frida Kahlo, famed Mexican painter. Kahlo herself embodies the complex nature of femininity: She was formidable in her own right, but her happiness, or lack thereof, seemed to depend greatly on her relationships with others. She represented the paradox of the modern woman, which calls for both prostration to the world and the ability to be strong when in isolation. She represented intense love, and she represented loneliness.
To explore modern relationships with Kahlo, who died in 1954, Mendez commissioned 15 letters from women around the world. The requirements were loose—a love letter to Kahlo—and the results are wide-ranging. Many approach Kahlo through her work, but some explore her on a more personal level, or her fraught relationship with her husband Diego Rivera.
Mendez composed an ambient soundscape that plays under the whole production, and occasionally, readers are accompanied by cellist Chase Morrison, as well as Sitara Schauer and Carla Kountoupes on violin. The letters were written in four languages: English, Spanish, Greek and Italian. The non-English letters are presented without a translation, and while Mendez is aware this may give viewers pause, she believes the readers' expression and the accompanying music will be helpful in conveying the meaning.
Mendez says when she was traveling in Greece a few years ago, a friend got her tickets to see a performance at the National Theatre of Greece. Mendez doesn't speak Greek, but her friend told her to come anyway. "I didn't understand what they were saying, but their movements, the gesturing, the music, was all really compelling. I walked out of there saying, 'I loved that! Even though I had no idea what you guys were talking about.'"
Of her own performance, too, she says, "A lot of people who come out to hear me don't know what I'm saying, because I'm singing in Spanish. I think meaning is conveyed in other invisible ways that I can't explain, but it touches them on some level, and they're moved by it."
Love Letter to Frida
5 pm Sunday July 23. $35-$40.
Scottish Rite Center,
463 Paseo de Peralta,
982-4414; tickets via Brown Paper Tickets.