Review: ESPEJOS: CLEAN at Studio Theatre

Top-notch bilingual production of Christine Quintanta's play of culture clash

By: Sep. 21, 2023
Review: ESPEJOS: CLEAN at Studio Theatre

It’s not new to have a Spanish language play in D.C. presented with English supertitles. 

Studio Theatre is doing that in their current production of “Espejos: Clean” but also offering Spanish supertitles for English dialogue. And sometimes they flash up at the same time.

It seems fitting in a play where different cultures collide just as the language does. 

Christine Quintana’s play (with a Spanish translation and adaptation by Paula Zelaya Cervantes) is a truly bilingual story about two women — one a manager of a cleaning staff at a Cancun resort, the other a North American visitor, English speaking only, with her own problems: the maid of honor at her little sister’s hyper-planed destination wedding, who is fully expected to mess things up and usually does.

As in the service industry, the two don’t really intersect — except for superficial greetings and the special clean-up required of a drunken guest who slices her knee open in a fall from a barstool. 

But when a sudden flood causes throws them together for a night, their exchanges draw out traumatic experiences from both of them, which in the end doesn’t really bring them together, but at least allows them a greater degree of mutual understanding.

The all-woman production is top-notch, from the vibrant cast to the sharp direction of Elena Araoz

Legna Cedillo gives heart and determination to Adriana, a woman from a small town who defies her family by joining the ranks of the resort cleaning crews of Cancun, quickly working her way to a no-nonsense management position that still allows her to pitch in as needed. 

Certainly, the daily chores are ground into her character such that she can repeat its endless cycles faster and faster, as she does in a dazzling second act scene. But she shows further dimensions as she shakes off her official attire and lets her hair down. 

Lauren Karaman is dynamic as the North American guest Sarah — a blowzy presence when drunk who is soon seen to be hiding insecurities and damages within. 

One of the first curvy models on “Project Runway,” Karaman is often seen in a bathing suit lathering up the sunscreen and trying out Spanish poorly. 

Despite her experience as a model, acting may be her strong suit. Not many can tear up on demand as she does freely more than once. (The bleeding, band-aids and scarring of her knee are all thanks to the detail-oriented costume designer Christopher Vergara, I’m supposing).

Sarah’s empathy toward Adriana is based both on recognition and misappropriation. Their imagined, sometimes disturbing fantasy encounters together that begin the second act can be at first a bit confusing, but offer a window into their shared fear and shadows from the past.  

Their parallel lives, told in near-poetic soliloquies, are well paced, as Araoz has one entering as the other is exiting on a clean, white-tiled set by Raul Abrego that’s the perfect surface to show and scrub the dirt that’s spilled. 

The wood paneling in the back suggests the long, lonely hallways of a resort hotel, with a thin line of light (lighting designer: Alberto Segarra) that is marvelous in its reductive simplicity: a cool blue for the ocean, and the hotel; a green for the Mexican landscape, a white for the lightning accompanying the storm. (Segarra’s also got a perfect pink light for the sunburning Sarah). 

Behind them, Luis Garcia’s expressive projections show reflect both the wash of the water, and the clouds of uncertainty as needed. 

Running time: Two hours with one 15 minute intermission.

Photo credit: Lauren Karaman and Legna Cedillo in “Espejos: Clean.” Photo by Margot Schulman. 

“Espejos: Clean” runs through Oct. 22 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Tickets at 202-332-3300 or Click Here

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