Latino Theatre Projects’ frantic ‘Ay, Carmela!’ lacks nuance

Latino Theatre Projects’ production of “Ay, Carmela!” — a challenging play for any theater company — takes on an urgency that’s more enervating than energizing.

Dense with history of the Spanish Civil War and engaged in a near-constant tonal tug of war between the macabre and the absurd, José Sanchis Sinisterra’s “Ay, Carmela!” represents a challenging prospect for any theater company. That burden falls especially heavy on the show’s two cast members, who must convincingly shift between private despair, shared reverie and full-scale vaudevillian showmanship.

Originally written in Spanish and translated here by Nilo Cruz and Catalina Botello, the play presumes a certain level of familiarity with the war and its struggle between the left-leaning Republicans and the Fascists, led by Gen. Francisco Franco, who installed himself as dictator for nearly 40 years.

Directed by Fernando Luna, Latino Theatre Projects’ production begins promisingly enough, with Paulino (Chip Wood) getting drunk in an empty theater, struggling with a broken phonograph and entertaining himself with not the last bit of scatological humor Sinisterra will feel like employing.

Theater Review

‘Ay, Carmela!’

By José Sanchis Sinisterra, adapted by Nilo Cruz and Catalina Botello. Through Saturday, Oct. 7, Theatre Off Jackson, 409 7th Ave. S, Seattle; $10-$25 (latinotheatreprojects.org)

A onetime cabaret performer, Paulino used to do an itinerant double act with wife Carmela (Alma Villegas) before tragedy cut her life short. Nevertheless, she soon arrives in all her ghostly glory to haunt her erstwhile husband and remind him of the events that led to her death.

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None of this is information immediately gleaned from the play itself, which flips topsy-turvy between the past and the present, reality and fantasy, reams of exposition and poetic detours with no clear purpose.

This material requires some intensely lucid direction and at least a modicum of demarcation between time periods, neither of which are in evidence in Latino Theatre Projects’ production, which has an urgency that’s more enervating than energizing. That frantic nature extends to both performances, which begin aiming for the back row early on and only escalate from there.

Wood and Villegas are both playing characters with a bit of ham in them, each trying in their own way to ingratiate…

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