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BWW Reviews: SOTTO VOCE Reading a Trip to the Sublime

BWW Reviews: SOTTO VOCE Reading a Trip to the Sublime

A piece intricate and delicate as Sotto Voce is a rarity of a show that rests completely on the script, so the Playwright's Forum and Master Class Series on Nilo Cruz couldn't have started with a stronger script. The underrated masterpiece, under the direction of Matt Stabile, gives three world class performers rise to the unbelievable character depth and connectivity that is Cruz' staple. While being a reading, not a fully staged production, audiences found themselves moving from modern New York and back to the deck of the S.S. St. Louis as the ocean waves crash around.

Sotto Voce is a work of historical fiction, humanizing the remnants of the M.S. St. Louis' 'Voyage of the Damned'. Bemadette Kahn, a renowned German-born novelist now in her eighties, is hounded by passionate young writer Saquiel Rafaeli. Rafaeli begins to take the place of her lost love as he tries to interview her and recover what was lost in his past, eventually using Lucila, Kahn's house-keeper, as a liaison.

Stabile worked wonders in bringing the three performers into each other with such intimacy and scarce rehearsal time. Barbara Bradshaw, playing Kahn, transforms visibly through the show from her agoraphobic cynicism into a bright, almost girlish delight as she rediscovers passion. Her student, the imitable Gabriel Bonilla as Rafaeli, transforms in the opposite direction - from his naiveite into resolve and then into despairing acceptance. And the slow loss of power of Lucila seen in Francisca Munoz is the modern tragedy that continues to resonate. The growth and decline of each character, moving from scene to scene, moving through time, is a focal point of Stabile's reading, and is perhaps what makes it succeed.

Even fans of the script may find surprise in the depths and intricacies Bradshaw brings to the elderly author, as her reluctance develops to warm flirtations and more. The truth and absolution of her Kahn is stunning, almost sharp enough to cut in an intimate space as Theatre Lab's black box, an unforgettable performance that should be repeated over a two-month run. Her backing is mostly in Munoz, who brings a refreshing comedic delivery that never fails, brightening even the darkest scenes. The two women could be sisters, working with a flow that's not typically seen. Munoz also creates muted pain in the latter scenes, a touch you could blink and miss, bringing Lucila to the fore-front of Stabile's Sotto Voce, and transforming issues of the 1930s to the issues of modern America.

Gabriel Bonilla, the focal point of both narratives in Sotto Voce, has worked with Cruz in past readings of his work and brings that love for his characters through. Bonilla is the Byronic entity trapped between internal dilemma and impending doom, his characterization drenched in the all-black dramatics in which the script would usually costume Saquiel Rafaeli. His sincere love and passion with Bradshaw, his connection to Munoz, and his desperation to connect with the truth, all culminate in a passionate, soulful performance.

Cruz' passion piece on the tragic unknowing and unstoppable force of memory is unleashed when in the hands of a director with Stabile's attention to detail and performers with the love of understanding that Bradshaw, Bonilla, and Munoz all exhibit. Thankfully, the beauty of the piece will continue through the weekend's Playwright's Forum and Master Class Series on Nilo Cruz- both East and West of the War and the world's first reading of Alice N. are slated for today at 2pm and 7:30pm respectively.

East and West of the War plays October 7th at 2:00pm, at the Theatre Lab, the professional resident company of FAU. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.

Alice N. plays October 7th at 7:30pm, at the Theatre Lab. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door, but supplies are limited. There will be a talk-back following the show with playwright Nilo Cruz.


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