Love is a sticky word. So says a solitary seamstress (Maria Merlino) in Buenos Aires in the 1940s in the one-woman show, Nada Del Amor Me Produce Envidía (I Don’t Envy Love)
Everyone talks of love, the nameless seamstress observes in her long monologue, and everyone means something different. She tells us about the love proclaimed by brides whose husbands in a single night ruin the gowns the seamstress works so hard to sew. She speaks of the love shared by movie stars in dark glasses, like the seamstress’s idol, Libertad Lamarque, an Argentine actress and tango singer known across Latin America as the “Sweetheart of the Americas.” And then, she says, there is the love the seamstress feels, “a love somewhat reduced” she admits: the love of sewing and tearing apart cloth.
Every summer, the International Hispanic Theatre Festival offers Miami theater lovers a chance to see hit shows they might otherwise have to travel thousands of miles to see. On Thursday, an enthusiastic crowd filled the Prometeo Theater for I Don’t Envy Love
, which has been running in Buenos Aires with Merlino as the star since its debut there in October 2008 (she had to fly back in time for her weekly Saturday performance).
Merlino enlisted writer Santiago Loza and her husband, director Diego Lerman, to build I Don’t Envy Love
around seven famous tangos of the era. Six were among the more than 800 songs that Lamarque recorded between her debut in the 1920s and her death in Mexico City in 2000. The seventh is Ada Falcon’s Envy
, which, given the title of the play, had to be included too. In a brilliant move, the play does not represent the romantic drama of Lamarque’s songs and films. Instead, the songs the seamstress loves are a counterpoint to her mundane and loveless life.
Merlino’s performance is both hilarious and poignant. Singing, she mimics Lamarque’s gesticulations awkwardly, gazing loopily into the distance, her body stiff and stock still from the torso down, her arms jutting out independently. She imitates Lamarque’s phrasing, but where Lamarque sang with her whole body, Merlino’s seamstress sings only from her head, leaving her voice thin and void of her idol’s erotic power.
Yet something extraordinary does happen in the seamstress’s life. Her modest shop is visited not only by Lamarque, but also by Argentine first lady Eva Peron, and she recounts how she was forced to take sides in the legendary spat between those two Argentine divas as they fight over the same dress. Astonished by her response, the audience applauded for several minutes in the blackout after the climax, delaying the final number, the only original song in the play. Not a single person left when the play ended. Instead, everyone stayed in their seats for the post-performance chat, eager to share their own reminiscences about Lamarque and, like the seamstress, bathe a little longer in her light.