Theater / Film

Nilo Cruz’s newest play, ‘Thirst on the Street of Water,’ inspired by author’s struggles

Written By Jose Antonio Evora
March 7, 2024 at 10:36 PM

Daniel Romero and Claudia Tomás in Nilo Cruz’s “Sed en la Calle del Agua” (“Thirst on the Street of Water”), which has its world premiere on Thursday, March 14 at the Miami Dade County Auditorium’s Black Box Theater in Spanish with simultaneous translation in English. (Photo by Roberto Santamarina, courtesy of Arca Images)

The award-winning Cuban American playwright Nilo Cruz confesses that it was a great challenge for him to have a daughter early in his life when he was just discovering his voice as a writer. “Sed en la Calle del Agua” (“Thirst on the Street of Water”), the play that he finished writing less than a month ago — and that he is now directing in its world premiere in Miami — explores those struggles.

“It was difficult, it was very difficult to do both, and that became a great conflict: being the father of my daughter and being the father of my plays — the conflict of not being able to be fully present,” he says.

“Thirst on the Street of Water” will play four performances in Spanish with simultaneous translation into English at the Miami Dade County Auditorium’s Black Box Theater, 8 .m. Thursday, March 14, Friday, March 15, and Saturday, March 16, and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 17.

From left, Daniel Romero, Claudia Tomás, playwright Nilo Cruz and Carlos Acosta Milián. (Photo by Roberto Santamarina, courtesy of Arca Images)

According to the synopsis of the play, “Thirst on the Street of Water” is set in an asylum for the mentally ill and tells the story of an artist who falls into a depression after losing her daughter to an illness. The psychiatrist in charge of the case realizes that art is vital for the woman’s well-being and that it may be the only path to her salvation.

“I wrote it in English and Alexa Kuve translated it into Spanish,” says the author, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama just over two decades ago with his work “Anna in the Tropics.” The original of “Thirst on the Street of Water” had been shelved for four years when Kuve, the actress and producer who heads Arca Images and who had already translated texts by Cruz such as “A Park in Our House” into Spanish, invited him to work again with the theater company.

“Thirst on the Street of Water” occurs in two time periods, Cruz explains: the past that the characters live at the end of the 1920s of the last century in Mexico, at the height of muralism, and the present at the beginning of the 1930s in New York.

“It jumps from a present to the past: Emma, who is American, falls in love here in the United States with this Mexican artist; they travel to Mexico, where both of them find their voices as artists,” says Cruz. “When the relationship begins to break down, they try to cling to that past in which, in addition to finding their voice as artists, they found each other.”

The work begins with a moment of crisis when a psychoanalyst tries to find out what happened in the painter’s life, what is the reason for her disorder, and why she has stopped painting.

“They find their voices just when a daughter comes into their lives. The conflict is: how to deal with creativity and domestic life, early love and a daughter who comes too soon into the lives of two bohemian artists who have not established themselves financially to assume that responsibility?”

Carlos Acosta Milián as the doctor and Claudia Tomás as a woman driven mad in the world premiere of Nilo Cruz’s “Sed en la Calle del Agua” (“Thirst on the Street of Water”). (Photo by Roberto Santamarina, courtesy of Arca Images).

The fundamental difference between the text that Cruz had shelved, and the definitive version, is the role of the psychologist, the playwright reveals. He was there only as a vehicle to get the protagonist out of her depressive state, but the playwright decided, he now says, to “give him a brush” in search of his individual struggle within the conflict of the play.

“Although the character says that his profession as a doctor prevents him from getting involved in the patient’s conflict, the case is very similar to something that happened to him, and there is a mirage that also occurs between the present and the past,” reveals Cruz. “In fact, there are several mirages in the work, and it was unintentional: everything came to me while writing the story and I just wanted to accentuate them.”

Cruz admits that he has always been more interested in his characters than the plot. “And here the doctor realizes that he has to treat this patient in a different way, using her painting to try to get her out of the state she is in.”

 A writer’s voice does not emerge overnight, according to Cruz. “You may think your first work is fabulous, but it’s not,” he says. “Training is very important, at least for me, as I am always training; I do it each time I write a work — I get to know another part of my being”.

In this case, he reiterates, the echoes of his own experience come to light: being a father or being an artist.

Nilo Cruz, the award-winning Cuban American playwright, only finished less than a month ago his latest play, “Sed en la Calle del Agua” (“Thirst on the Street of Water”), playing at the Miami Dade County Auditorium’ s Black Box Theater in four performances in Spanish with simultaneous translation into English. (Photo by Roberto Santamarina, courtesy of Arca Images).

“That put a lot of pressure on my relationship and the relationship became very diluted,” he recalls. “It was difficult. Now it’s like going back to that stage of my life but through these characters. When you write, there is a very intimate interest. A certain urgency to tell a story about problems in your life for which you did not find a solution. Even though you have those things hidden deep within yourself, they somehow come out in writing. You react to certain situations because you have lived them, and if you have lived them, you have a way to enter that world. It is a kind of a thoughtful catharsis.”

The theme of a lost daughter had already appeared in another of his works, “Beauty of the Father,” which he wrote before “Anna in the Tropics,” when he was living in New York.

“If you study the work of Marguerite Duras, you will see that there are themes that are repeated, and the same thing happens with (Antón) Chekhov: the sale of a house, a changing world and how certain human beings are left behind,” says Cruz. “I think that happens with all authors, themes that emerge again and again, and the process of investigating them from another point of view ends up being a redemption. It is the obsessive themes that create the character, the style of the artist.”

“Thirst on the Street of Water,” he says, also has to do with what some consider the shortest story ever written, attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

“Incredible that such a short text encapsulates so much,” says the author and director. “It has a certain ambiguity, because it is not known if they are selling the shoes because the child died, or because they bought two pairs, one was too small, and he could not use them. My play can be reduced to this brief story,” he adds.

It has been disputed that it was Hemingway who wrote it. In 1910, under the title “Tragedy of baby’s death is revealed in sale of clothes,” an article in The Spokane Press ran the classified “Baby’s handmade trousseau and baby’s bed for sale. Never been used,”  which could be the true source of the very short story attributed to Hemingway.

Cruz not only wrote the play but is directing it.

Actor Daniel Romero has been seen in several recent Arca Images productions, including another work by Nilo Cruz, “A Park in Our House”. Photo by Roberto Santamarina, courtesy of Arca Images)

“I am working with Claudia Tomás and Daniel Romero, two actors that I recently discovered and who were in my last play, ‘A Park in Our House,’ ”  he says. “In real life they are a couple, very young, recently arrived from Cuba. They are artists, passionate about theater. There is a certain intimacy in the protagonists of ‘Thirst on the Street of Water’ that comes very easily to them because they are a couple, and they are also obsessed with theater, with art, just like these characters. So, half of my work was already done when I chose them”.

He had never worked with Orlando Urdaneta, he says. He had seen him in several productions, they had met before, and the Venezuelan actor had expressed his desire to act in one of his plays.

“I saw him recently at a performance, I told him that I was preparing this play and that maybe he would be interested in playing a character; I offered it to him, he read it and he liked it,” says Cruz. “And Carlos Acosta Milián is an actor with whom I have worked a lot: he played a doctor in ‘Exquisite Agony’ and was also in ‘Lorca in a Green Dress’ and ‘Baño de Luna’; a veteran of my theater in this city.”

For Cruz, the process of bringing the characters to life with the actors becomes a final phase of writing.

“You’re exploring the text, seeing how it works in that third space that is the theater, and wondering how to deal with human behavior on a set, which in this case is basically a circle on the floor,” he says, adding: “I asked the set designer for something that looked like a moon, regarding the concept of the lunatic and the circle at the same time. It helps to recreate the three times: past, present and future.”

WHAT: World premiere of “Sed en la Calle del Agua” (“Thirst on the Street of Water”), by Nilo Cruz. In Spanish with simultaneous translation into English.

WHERE: Miami Dade County Auditorium’s Black Box Theater, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami, FL 33135

WHEN: Thursday, March 14, Friday, March 15, and Saturday, March 16, 8:00 pm, and Sunday, March 17, 3:00 pm.

COST: General admission: $30. Seniors over 65 and students: $25. Tickets are available at arcaimages.org and on the day of the show only at the theater.

INFORMATION: arcaimages.org

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