Performing Arts

Hispanic Theatre Festival brings the world to Miami

“La isla desierta”
“La isla desierta”

For the last three decades Mario Ernesto Sánchez, founder and artistic director of the International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami, has had to navigate last minute cancellations, mountains of red tape, denied visas, earthquakes, hurricanes and more. Not surprisingly, when he’s asked what he loves about producing the festival, now in its 31st year, his wry sense of humor comes out: “My favorite thing is that every year we go through hell, for several reasons, but when the festival arrives and we see the results, we begin to plan the following year.”

Sánchez, known for his tenacity as a director and his charm as a promoter of culture, continues the festival’s mission of highlighting Hispanic culture by bringing Miami some of the most interesting theater from the U.S., Latin America and Spain. This year’s festival runs through July 24 at various Miami-Dade venues.

We caught up with Sánchez and discussed this year’s highlights.

Argentina’s Grupo Ojcuro grabbed our attention in part because several of the members are blind but also for its unique production qualities. Has the group performed in the festival before?

It should grab your attention because it’s something Miami has never experienced. I saw them in Buenos Aires and immediately I thought about presenting them here. Grupo Ojcuro has never performed here and not all in the group are blind, only five. “La isla desierta” [The Desert Island, running Thursday-Saturday] by Roberto Arlt, adapted and directed by José Menchaca,, is performed in total darkness. It’s a play about our senses except eyesight.

Every year your company Teatro Avante debuts a new play. This year you co-wrote “El puerto de los cristales rotos” (Harbor of Broken Glass; July 21-23). Is this the first time you’ve co-written a play?

Yes, it is the first time I have co-written a play. Almost 15 years ago I saw a small article in the newspaper that read: Today, on May 13, we commemorate the tragic voyage of the MS St. Louis [the ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees in 1939, which was turned away by Cuba, the U.S. and Canada, resulting in the eventual deaths of many of the passengers in Nazi camps]. This triggered a 10-year investigation, and the more I read, the more interesting and sad it became. I even thought about “dry foot, wet foot,” the current law governing the Cuban rafters. Since then, I have been obsessed with the idea of writing a play about this incident, mainly because no one I asked knew what I was talking about, and it should be known what Cuba and the U.S. were capable of doing before WWII. Only lately have other writers been interested in promulgating the truth about the tragic voyage of the MS St. Louis.

Luckily, I found what has become a dear friend and colleague, Patricia Suárez, an award-winning Jewish-Argentine award-winning writer from Buenos Aires. She gave me the freedom to use her play structure while writing my own story. She loved the finish product and will travel to Miami to witness the world premiere. [”El puerto de los Cristales Rotos” will have an extended run at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium’s On.Stage Black Box Theatre, Feb. 2-5.]

What are some other festival highlights?

We try to bring highlights from [various] countries. [The festival began with] Mexico, bringing “Del manantial del corazón” (From the Wellspring of the Heart), a Mayan baptism from Merida, Yucatan; and Prometeo presenting “Cacería,” an adaptation of “The Crucible.” Spain is bringing “Los espejos de Don Quijote” [Mirrors of Don Quixote, Friday and Saturday], the award-winning play that commemorated Cervantes’ 400th death anniversary. Peru comes with “El sistema solar” (July 22-23), where no one expects a revelation toward the end that will set off a true crisis in their household.

This year we celebrate the popular International Children’s Day with “Piedra a piedra” (Stone by Stone, Sunday), a bilingual play from Valencia, Spain. The day is free and open to the public, and it includes arts and crafts, rides, face painting, combo meals and workshops for children.

If You Go

What: The International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami.

When: Through July 24.

Where: Adrienne Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater, 1900 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; Miami-Dade County Auditorium’s On.Stage Black Box, 2901 W. Flagler, Miami; and the Key Biscayne Community Center, 10 Village Green Way, Key Biscayne.

Info: Tickets $30-38, seniors, students and persons with disabilities $25. For times and venues, visit teatroavante.org; www.miamidadecountyauditorium.org; http://www.arshtcenter.org/#; 305-547-5414; 800-745-3000.

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