We were recently invited to attend one of the highly acclaimed performances of “Tango Fever” by Meri Wallace at Teatro LATEA located within The Clemente Soto Velez Center on Suffolk Street on The Lower East Side. We have been to this wonderfully quirky space, a former public school turned entertainment venue and gallery, several times before over the years and can always expect to see a piece of theatre of the sort that sticks with you long after the final curtain call. “Tango Fever” was no exception. It was the very first time we were asked to review a show specifically by members of the establishment rather than just doing it on our own volition so the experience was unique for that reason alone. Attending any type of theatrical show or performance is always a multi-layered delight, having been involved in various productions over the years and having the many experiences that come with being involved with and immersed in the energy of live theatre. We are always paying attention to every detail and nuance from the script to the acting to what is going on behind the scenes. Now let’s talk about the show and our opinion of it!
It was an unusually balmy and humid evening in New York City, which certainly added to the experience. We weren’t sure what to expect and only knew one of the members of the cast. Basil Rojas, a dear friend, opens the show as the janitor of a dance rehearsal studio where much of the action of the play takes place. His role acted as the voyeur, the employee who watches from the outskirts that knows a little too much about everyone and longs for the day when he can be a part of the excitement that occurs in the studio. After his endearing dance with his trusty broom, the story begins.
The play centers around the seemingly normal but quite unusual life of Ana, a children’s book author who is trapped in a marriage with a husband who became ill shortly after they married and spends his days and nights complaining and procrastinating and leaving her lonely. Desperate for some passion in her life, she visits the dance studio to enroll in a Tango class. Dance being one of her first loves and something she is quite natural at, she immediately grabs the attention of the other students in the class with her skill and garners the tough love criticisms of the instructor, a former dancer himself who suffered an injury that left him unable to dance the way he used to. A common thread throughout the show begins here : the fire and passion of the tango is constantly at war with the character’s bitterness, confusion and longing for the what they once had. One by one, the rest of the characters discover their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their personal prisons and eventually solutions. These personal duels are also gorgeously expressed through their movement in dance.
In an almost “i’ve heard this story told before” setting, Ana meets Paul at the studio, an illegal immigrant from Argentina who is the best in the class and eventually Ana is chosen as his partner for an upcoming performance. Paul seduces Ana and reignites her lust for life, filling a deep void that has taken over her life. She grows colder and colder at home and pushes her husband further away while getting closer and closer to Paul. At first, were quite disconcerted with the way that Ana was being portrayed and felt the actress was out of place and overacting while the rest of the cast seemed quite comfortable and natural in their roles. This eventually gave way to recognizing how out of place Ana was amongst these new friends and how much she felt like a lost little girl whose dreams were ripped away from her by circumstance. As the play went on, Ana’s depth and desire became more concentrated and her character widened in dimension. Soon, it is revealed that all of the couples in the show were falling apart one by one by lies and deceit and the scorn of settling for less than each person deserved. Each character became more human, in pain and flawed though hardened by their individual realities. The cliche burdened storyline at first glance certainly defied expectation and became a complete tale of its own.
The set was simple, three mirrors obstructed by draped cloth to soften the actors’ reflections and provide the audience with an added perspective that was very purposefully utilized by the director in the second act. A small box to the left of the stage was a window into Ana’s living room where her brief meetings with her husband took place. The show also was accented with powerful interludes of gorgeously choreographed and executed dancing that heightened the story to a level that would not be possible without them. The interactions and storytelling through these movements were so definitive and verbose that the story was understood even while unspoken. As the drama progressed, the dancing became more emotive and somewhat sinister. This gradual progression was so cleverly directed that the climb went unnoticed and wonderfully seduced you into the characters’ worlds. There were also some remarkable solos that were so beautiful that they could have been stand alone performances themselves. The highlight of the show was certainly the ‘performance within the performance’ as all of the characters danced together for one last time ‘on stage’ in front of an audience for the first time for them and displayed such style and discipline that it made us proverbially ‘sit at the edge of our seat’! The actors certainly doubled as incredible dancers who obviously love both crafts and performed every number with pride and passion. The details and intricacies and tenacity necessary to dance the tango are mind boggling to watch!
Major kudos and congratulations to the cast and crew but especially to Choreographer Valeria Solomonoff and Director Jose A. Esquea
Despite warnings from her new friends about his inability to be trusted and an almost cat fight with his on and off lover, Ana ultimately falls in love (or lust) with Paul and becomes consumed by being wanted again and belonging somewhere again. Lies are uncovered and hearts are broken. The show transgresses with moments of unexpected and uncomfortable violence along with decisions that weave in the sadness and helplessness that makes you think twice about who the protagonist in the story actually is. Like all good off-off Broadway theatre, the ending is certainly filled with melancholy and uncertainty and the show concludes as a tale of taking chances, being human, making mistakes, emotional handicaps, regret, desperation, love, lust and the force to be reckoned with that is The Tango! Unfortunately there are only two more chances to see “Tango Fever” for yourself on Saturday the 6th and Sunday the 7th. Click here for tickets and more info