Director José Carrasquillo on ‘La Señorita de Tacna’ (The Young Lady from Tacna) at GALA Hispanic Theatre

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La Señorita de Tacna (The Young Lady from Tacna), by the Peruvian Playwright Mario Vargas Llosa, opens tonight  at GALA Hispanic Theatre. I asked Director José Carrasquillo about the auditions and rehearsals and what the audience can expect when they see the show.

Director José Carrasquillo.
Director José Carrasquillo.

Joel: Why did you want to direct La Señorita de Tacna?

José: I wanted to do this play because it comes from the mastermind Mario Vargas Llosa, whose work often centers around how stories are born. It’s a unique memory play that centers around a 100-year-old woman (Mama-E). Vargas Llosa summons vivid memories around a family mystery while expertly weaving the multi-generational proceedings between the latter part of the 20th century and the devastating consequences of the Pacific War between Peru and Chile (1879-1883), and the aftermath.

(left to right) Marian Licha (Abuela Carmen), Carlos Castillo (Belisario), and Luz Nicolás (Mamaé). Photo by Lonnie Tague
(left to right) Marian Licha (Abuela Carmen), Carlos Castillo (Belisario), and Luz Nicolás (Mamaé). Photo by Lonnie Tague.

Who is in your cast?

The stand-in for Vargas Llosa (Belisario in the play) is Carlos Castillo. Carlos is a GALA company member with over two decades of experience as an actor. He has worked with me twice before at GALA in both La Granada and Lucido. He was last seen in Cabaret Barroco: Interludes of Spain’s Golden Age earlier this season and was part of the ensemble in The House of the Spirits last year.

Luz Nicolas plays the key role of Mama-E, a character that goes back and forth in time, playing a range of ages between 16 and 100.

GALA’s Artistic Director Hugo Medrano plays Pedro, the Grandfather of the clan.

The rest of the cast consists of Marian Licha as Carmencita the Grandmother, Andrea Aranguren in the double role of Amelia/Sra. Carlota, Tim Pabon as Agustin, Oscar Ceville as Cesar and making his GALA debut, Victor Maldonado as Joaquin.

What were auditions like?

The audition process was focused on finding the writer (Belisario) and the right Mama-E. Once those actors were found, then the rest of the cast was chosen. For the role of Belisario, I looked specifically at an actor who could play self-reflection on stage and the technical ability to interact with memories of his past. For Mama-E, it was all about the physical dexterity and an understanding of the vocabulary that can transform a body into a 100-year-old woman.

And rehearsals?

The early part of the rehearsal process was focused on the language of the play and researching each of the stories in a historical context. Also, together we figured out the timeline and where the characters landed each time the story moved forward or backward in time. The movement of the piece was then added and this was understood to always be departing from the mind of the writer. Once we had the structure of the play figured out, we then shaped the storytelling, recounting it on stage.

Victor Maldonado (Joaquín) and Luz Nicolás (Mamaé). Photo by Lonnie Tague.
Victor Maldonado (Joaquín) and Luz Nicolás (Mamaé). Photo by Lonnie Tague.

What were some of the major challenges you have faced directing the show?

The show is challenging to direct because it does not have a structure of scenes. And Mario very specifically does not want black-outs or scene changes. It is also challenging because it does not follow a chronological timeline.

How can the audience relate to La Señorita de Tacna (The Young Lady from Tacna)?

I believe the audience will identify with it because the theme of family is very much present throughout. I also think that all of us have a Mama-E in our lives. The play also speaks beautifully about how stories are born and the challenges that a writer encounters in shaping history and staying truthful to it.

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La Señorita de Tacna (The Young Lady from Tacna) plays through March 9, 2014 at GALA Hispanic Theatre – 3333 14th St NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (800) 494-8497 or (202) 234-7174, or purchase them online.

Special student matinees for La Señorita de Tacna are February 7th, February 14th, February 21st, February 28th, and March 6th and March 7th at 10:30 am. For more information about The Student Matinee Program, please call (202) 234-7174.

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ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT AND DIRECTOR

Playwright Mario Vargas Llosa. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.
Playwright Mario Vargas Llosa. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

Mario Vargas Llosa was born in Arequipa, Peru and is considered one of the leading writers of his generation.  A writer, politician, journalist, essayist, and college professor, he is also is the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature. Some critics believe that he had had a larger international impact and worldwide audience than any other writer of the Latin American Boom.

Vargas Llosa received critical acclaim in the 1960s for such as novels as The Time of the Hero (La ciudad y los perros), The Green House (La casa verde) and Conversation in the Cathedral (Conversación en la catedral). His novels include comedies, murder mysteries, historical novels and political thrillers. Several of his novels, including Captain Pantoja and the Special Service and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, have been adapted as feature films. A prolific writer, he also has written literary criticism, journalism and plays.

Among his most recognized plays are La huida del inca (1952), La señorita de Tacna (1981), Kathie y el hipopótamo (1983), La Chunga (1986), El loco de los balcones (1993), Odiseo y Penélope (2007) and Las mil y una noches (2010).

Vargas Llosa ran for president of Peru in 1990 and was elected to the Spanish Academy in 1994. He was also International President of PEN International from 1976 to 1979. At Georgetown University in Washington, DC, he was named the first Ibero-American Literature and Culture Chair of the Department of Spanish and Portugese in 2001, was the Parker Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in 1999, and was a visiting professor in 1994.

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Director José Carrasquillo.
Director José Carrasquillo.

José Carrasquillo last directed Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Ana en el trópico at GALA. Other productions he has directed at GALA include LúcidoThe True History of Coca-Cola in MexicoCita a ciegasEl arquitecto y el emperador de Asiria, and La granada.

Other credits in Washington, DC include After the Fall at Theater J; Happy Days at WSC Avant Bard; MacbethMedea, Blood Wedding, Metamorphosis, and The Maids at Washington Shakespeare Company; Patient A at Freedom Stage; Jesus Hopped the “A” Train at Round House Theatre; A Language of Their Own and Clean at The Studio Theatre; Sueño, an adaptation of Calderon’s Life is a Dream at Olney Center for the Arts; and the world premieres of The Obituary Bowl at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; The Magic Rainforest at The Kennedy Center; and Donna Q at Signature Theatre. As an educator, Mr. Carrasquillo is a regular guest lecturer and director at universities and acting conservatories around the country, including University of Washington in Seattle, Juilliard School of Drama in New York; the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, the Theater Lab, Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and The University of Maryland at College Park, MD.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.