nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
October 28, 2011
For some reason, Rene Buch and Jorge Merced have turned Federico Fellini’s devastating film La Strada into a comedy. The first act of their otherwise lovely Spanish-language stage adaptation of the 1954 classic is prefaced by three clowns who need to come up with a new act to propose to their boss—or be canned from their circus. One (Israel Ruiz) has a pebble. Another (Winston Estevez) is armed with a metal chain. The third (Maria Peyramaure) has a trumpet. For twenty minutes they play around with these instruments, until they decide to tell the story of Gelsomina (Nanda Abella), sold to Zampano, a brutish traveling strongman (Luis Carlos de La Lombana) and the fallout of her love for a circus fool (Ruiz).
Once the story gets started, it follows Fellini’s film (written with Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano) rather closely. And were it not for the clown business, skilled though it may be (clown consultation is by Audrey Crabtree), this version would potentially be on par with the original. Abella’s innocent smile is particularly heartbreaking; so too is Lombana’s general state of complete confusion as a man who just wants to work hard and earn a living. Ruiz, who recently won an Hola Award for his performance, is similarly affecting.
For those worried, there are indeed English supertitles of George Vasquez’s script projected onto the stage, though in the most inconvenient spot: the complete opposite side to where the action takes place. One can either choose to look at the rapid-fire translations or pay attention to the performers. Luckily, the actors convey enough into their body language that you’ll likely be able to follow the plot either way.
While the clowns disappear in the second act, the production ends in a strangely joyful, musical curtain call with everyone clapping and stomping their feet to the show’s prominent theme (Stephanie Davis and Jennifer Harder provide background violin and trumpeting). This occurs, of course, following the inevitable tragic ending. A finale that joyful, with auience members humming the catchy tune as they hit the street, is too large a betrayal to the original source material to forget.