Christine Quintana's Espejos:Clean

Hartford Stage Company

By: - Feb 04, 2023

The playwright Christine Quintana makes an interesting point about communication in the program of Hartford Stage’s production of Espejos:Clean. She says, “Every interaction we have with one another is an act of translation.”

Correct though not always obvious. Each of us interprets an act of communication by instantaneously considering context, personal experience, background and more. The simple greeting “How are you?” can be interpreted as caring or rude or intrusive.

It will be interesting to see how audiences react to Espejos:Clean, which is in both Spanish and English and features continuous superscript translations. Will it attract new audiences? Will it turn off current Hartford Stage patrons? We may not know the answer until the run concludes, Sunday, February 5.

The idea of a play where two characters interact but each speaks a different language could be fascinating. Unfortunately, the opportunity is squandered.

We have two characters at a resort in Cancun. Sarah is a 20-ish Canadian woman at the resort for her younger sister’s destination wedding. The other, Adriana, is the head of housekeeping at the resort; she is from a small town.

For most of the longer first act, the two alternate monologues that provide background information and set us up for act two. Adriana tells us of her escape from her small town and her father, her boyfriend, and her job. She comments on the guests she must cater to and the women she supervises.

Sarah we learn, is viewed as the “screw-up” of the family; she drinks way too much and seems cynical and checked out. She gets sloppy drunk at the bar and falls badly, cutting her knee; she uses alcohol and sleep as escapes.

Sarah’s cut knee is what brings her into contact with Adriana; after the fall, Sarah sleeps for hours and wakes to find the sheets covered in blood. Adriana must clean up the mess.

Act two, which is approximately 30 minutes, brings the two women together. They talk with Sarah using a cell phone app that translates.

The issue is that the two acts seem like totally different plays. Act one is rather straightforward and linear; in act two we suddenly have acted out fantasies. Each of the women comes to terms with events from their past that have scarred them.  It isn’t clear if Adrianna is moving on but Sarah seems ready to.

First of all, the projections by Lisa Renkel are remarkable. When Adriana and later both he and Sarah hit the road, we get a total sense of driving down a highway with billboards passing by. The set by Mariana Sanchez captures the look and feel of a tropical resort.

Emma Ramos as Adriana brings us a character who is proud of her achievements; she seems way more mature and controlled than Sarah. Only at a staff party, does she appear young; the rest of the time she is matter of fact. Kate Abbruzzese gives us a Sarah who is flightier and uses her “I don’t care attitude” to cover up her pain. She is not afraid to let us be annoyed with Sarah, who appears irresponsible.

Director Melissa Crespo uses the big Hartford Stage playing area to her advantage.

Usually, when an author writes in two languages, they are fluent in each. In this case, playwright Christine Quintana confesses in the program to having only “intermediate” Spanish skills. Paula Zelaya Cervantes worked with her to translate the play into the two languages. One can assume that she took Quintana’s English dialogue for Adriana and translated it into Spanish for the monologues as well as Sarah’s dialogue into Spanish for the superscripts.

My guest at the performance speaks Spanish (though it is rusty). She did mention that she felt the translations often appeared to be missing or downplaying aspects of the words. She mentioned that Adriana uses the word “vengeance” several times but it is nowhere in the superscript translation.

Was this on purpose? It is hard to know. Translations are difficult not only must the dictionary definition of a word be considered but its connotations. Often words have multiple meanings.

Quintana is attempting to deal with multiple issues. One is how each of us perceives (translates) things based on experiences and expectations. Not just words but actions as well. Another is coming to grips with our past and freeing ourselves of how that constrains us.

In some ways, Espejos: Clean makes neither point clearly. What comes through is the line in the play about how those who are left are the ones who have to clean up after the mess.

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