Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz called the triangle “a figure in which the animal and the divine converge.” The new solo piece from award-winning writer and performer Teo Castellanos Third Trinity is rife with the power of three — three brothers, three decades and 23 characters.
Commissioned by the Miami Light Project and directed by playwright, actor and MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship recipient Tarell Alvin McCraney, the show will run at The Light Box at the Goldman Warehouse Friday through Oct. 18. Based it on his family’s story and inspired by a spiritual connection to his late grandmother, the Puerto-Rican born, Miami-raised Castellanos has created a powerhouse play about fraternal bonds and betrayal.
“The play begins with a prediction that was given to my mother by una santera who told her she would have three sons — one would be a politician, one would go to jail and one would be an artist,” says Castellanos. Due to tragic circumstances, the prediction came true. In the 1960s, Castellanos’ mother’s sister was murdered in New York. Castellanos’ mother adopted her sister’s two young boys, and once she gave birth to Teo, the three boys grew up as brothers.
Third Trinity is Castellanos’ look at his brother’s lives: “One passed away. He was a Puerto Rican nationalist. The one who is still alive was a drug smuggler in the ’80s,” Castellanos says. “From the beginning, tragedy made them what they were and took them into two totally different directions.”
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Castellanos’ family story is the stuff of mobster movies: murder, drugs, violence, car chases and explosions. It’s not surprising that he always envisioned it on the big screen, and by last December he had finished Third Trinity as a screenplay. At the beginning of this year, he set out to adapt it to the stage, turning the 120-page screenplay into a 28-page script: “The screenplay was new territory for me. I don’t know how that road is going to be,” Castellanos says. “But my career has been based on self-generated theater work, so I know how to create a theater piece.”
Indeed he does. Castellanos’ last solo show, NE 2nd Avenue, debuted in 2002 to rave reviews, toured nationally and internationally for 10 years and won the Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In NE 2nd Avenue, Castellanos portrayed nine different characters who ride a jitney through Miami’s urban center.
In Third Trinity he continues to display his acting chops, this time portraying 23 characters in a narrative that spans three decades, from the 1960s through the 1980s. Third Trinity takes place in Puerto Rico, New York and Miami’s Carol City, where Castellanos grew up. The play is written for an English-speaking audience, but it’s peppered with Puerto Rican and Cuban Spanish, Miami Spanglish, Ebonics and more. “There’s a huge challenge in writing fully developed characters and then as an actor keeping them separate,” Castellanos says.
(McCraney’s involvement also circles back to both artists’ roots. As a teenager growing up in Liberty City, McCraney found a mentor and teacher in Castellanos, who was pivotal in starting the younger man in theater. McCraney remains a member of D-Projects, Castellanos’ theater collective, and in 2011 directed his former teacher in a GableStage production of McCraney’s play The Brothers Size.)
In order to adapt the screenplay’s multiple storylines to the stage, Castellanos created a narrator based on his grandmother, whom he never met but for whom he always felt an affinity. “I had to construct her from three photographs and my DNA. That’s it!” Castellanos jokes. “Not to sound too new-agey, but through my DNA and my imagination … I’ve been able to manifest her — how she walks and how she talks.”
Castellanos hopes Third Trinity will tour after its debut at Miami Light Project and that the story will eventually make it to the big screen: “Every show I build, I build it to tour, so I hope it has a long life after this and in a way, maybe it can be a calling card for the screenplay.”
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If you go
What: ‘Third Trinity’
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Monday and Oct. 16-18
Where: The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 NW 26th St., Miami
Info: $25, $15 for students and seniors; miamilightproject.com or 305-576-4350