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BWW Review: A Puerto Rican Singing Legend Symbolizes Better Days In TELL HECTOR I MISS HIM

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The legendary Puerto Rican salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, who died of AIDS in 1993 at age 46, has been long gone when Paola Lázaro's humorous drama, Tell Hector I Miss Him, takes place, but his absence has the same symbolic meaning as when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel asked, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?"

Tell Hector I Miss Him
Juan Carlos Hernandez and Selenis Leyva
(Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

"Fuck me like I'm a trash bag," is the first line heard in the play, spoken by an offstage woman's voice. "Like I don't mean nothing to you. Like you don't like me."

The sexual demands she's placing on her confused male lover, who is nevertheless trying to comply, include references to colonization and an arguably degrading act performed over all of San Juan. They're far cries from the invigorating and romantic musical poetry Lavoe contributed to the island's culture.

The setting for the 28-year-old playwright's ensemble piece is no doubt inspired by the section of Old San Juan known as La Perla, a community known for its high crime rate and drug use, whose streets don't appear on many maps in order to protect unsuspecting tourists from entering.

Designer Clint Ramos provides a unit set that doesn't specify any of the drama's multiple settings, but instead features the dark, imposing walls of the Spanish fort that cuts off the neighborhood from the rest of the city.

With twelve characters playing out several relationships in intertwining short scenes, Lázaro paints a sympathetic community portrait that, while not ignoring the darker issues, gives proper focus to the humanity.

The woman voicing unusual sexual desires turns out to be Samira (Selenis Leyva), who is having an affair with drug dealer Jeison (Victor Almanzar). Her controlling husband, Mostro (Juan Carlos Hernandez), owns a grocery shop that serves as a central gathering place.

Jeison watches over his younger brother Palito (Sean Carvajal), who blames his older sibling for driving their mother to drink, causing his fetal alcohol syndrome. Palito's girlfriend Tati (Analisa Velez), is good to her man as long as he can give her drugs and money, courtesy of his brother's thriving business.

Tell Hector I Miss Him
Dascha Polanco and Yadira Guevara-Prip
(Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

The most compelling story is that of teenage Isis (Yadira Guevara-Prip), romantically obsessed with the cool Malena (Dascha Polanco), regarded by all to be the sexiest woman around. Malena has no interest in women but, in her own aloof way she admires the young girl's directness about her feelings, as compared with the cowardly local men who just gawk at her without trying to get to know her. Both actors are excellent, playing a hesitant relationship with an unclear definition. I'll leave it to women in the audience to determine whether or not a unique bonding moment between Isis, Malena and Tati is a realistic one.

Also testing the boundaries of realism a bit is a situation regarding the adolescent Toño (Alexander Flores), son of the uncontrollable alcoholic Mami (Lisa Ramirez), who gets kicked out of school for accidentally falling on a teacher while sporting an uncontrollable erection.

And then there's the young woman known as La Gata (Talene Monahon), who only communicates with meows.

It's a colorful mix, for sure, and Lázaro displays a talent for language made of natural street poetics, finding tonal and rhythmic beauty in the harsh dialogue. Director David Mendizábal glides a fine company through a play that suffers a bit in the second half for lack of a clear dramatic arc, but the playwright never allows too many pages to go by without an interesting turn.

TELL HECTOR I MISS HIM offers an engaging look at the work of a young theatre voice displaying a good amount of potential.


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