Theater / Film

Playwright Alexis Scheer Celebrates the Spanglish Side Of Miami at GableStage

Written By Miguel Sirgado
May 14, 2024 at 11:38 AM

GableStage presents the Florida premiere of “Laughs in Spanish,” a play written by Miami native Alexis Scheer, rescheduled to run from May 25 through June 23.  The cast, from left, are: Magali Trench, Marcela Paguaga, Mariana Mondragon, Gaby Tortoledo, and William Guevara. (Photo courtesy of Magnus Stark)

Much has been said about how the Spanish we speak in Miami has affected the native English, and how this has led to the emergence of a new dialect in the bilingual generations. According to several academic studies, this phenomenon occurs when two languages come into close contact. Not to mention the interpersonal relationships of South Florida Latino families. From gestures to tone, Spanglish is here to stay.

 

Marcela Paguaga, left, who plays the role of Carolina in “Laughs in Spanish,” works with Victoria Collado, director, in the Florida premiere of Alexis Scheer’s play. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Collado)

Celebrating the nuances of the “Miami language” is what GableStage’s “Laughs In Spanish” —a new comedy written by Miami born and made New World School of the Arts grad Alexis Scheer —is all about. Opening on Saturday, May 25, the playful exploration of identity, family and the local art scene will run at the company’s space in the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, through Sunday, June 23.

“It’s interesting and fun to discover in the play how much can be presented on stage while still being accessible to English-speaking audiences,” says Scheer. “It was equally enjoyable to incorporate Spanish to inform the characters without excluding those who don’t speak Spanish. Regardless of language proficiency, viewers will still grasp the essence of the play. I found it crucial to bring this aspect of Miami’s flavor and texture to the stage, as it authentically reflects the city’s linguistic diversity,” she says. 

“When I was in graduate school in Boston, my professors encouraged me ‘to go home’ with my writing, to introduce audiences to the people and the culture I grew up with,” says Alexis Scheer, who wrote “Laughs in Spanish.” (Photo courtesy of Alexis Scheer)

 The plot begins on the cusp of Art Basel and Mariana, the director of an upscale modern gallery, has a big problem. Her showroom is the scene of a crime. When Mariana’s mother, a movie star, tries to save the exhibition, everything becomes hilariously “complicado.” Performed in English with a dash of Spanish, the fast-paced comedy about art and success—and mothers and daughters—is a lighthearted snapshot of Cuban and Colombian-American culture set in the heart of Miami’s Wynwood arts district. 

[RELATED: Christine Dolen: Alexis Scheer’s Play ‘Our Dear Drug Lord’ At Zoetic Stage]

 “Laughs in Spanish” had its world premiere in 2022 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Scheer talks about how she came up with the idea of writing the peculiar piece with many of the best tricks of vernacular and traditional theater.

“When I was in graduate school in Boston, my professors encouraged me ‘to go home’ with my writing, to introduce audiences to the people and the culture I grew up with, the world I came from. So, I started writing about Miami and the people who populate the city.” Scheer grew up in Miami in a multicultural household, along with her Colombian mother and a Floridian father of European roots. “I wanted to introduce the audience to the rhythm and language of Miami and also introduce a cast of successful and funny Latinx characters,” she says. 

The cast of GableStage’s “Laughs in Spanish,” clockwise from left, Magali Trench, Marcela Paguaga, Mariana Mondragon, Gaby Tortoledo and William Guevara. (Photo courtesy of Magnus Stark)

 The idea of a play with the structure of a comedy of entanglements was deeply rooted in the way Scheer finally conceived the text. “I was pulling from a lot of comedy tropes and stock characters, and the stakes were really high. Also, there was a little bit of ‘telenovela’ influence, so everything was just a little amped up and heightened. It felt like the story was dancing off the page. But mostly, I just wanted to have a good time.” 

 For Cuban-American director Victoria Collado, who directed GableStage’s “Native Gardens” last season, the case is similar. “I read the script and . . . I immediately fell in love with the play because I had never seen Miami people portrayed that way. There are characters that have never been seen on the American stage before. I was super excited, and that’s how I got involved with the Miami production.” 

But when it comes to directing this production, the text has not been the only enjoyable challenge for Collado. The staging will also feature the work of prolific visual artist based in Miami, Diana “Didi” Contreras who has  been asked to collaborate with companies such as Converse, Apple, and Warner Brothers; her paintings and murals commissioned by A-listers like Shakira. 

When discussing the inclusion of emerging artists in the play, Diana “Didi” Contreras —also known as Didi Rock, a Peruvian-American artist born in 1981 with ties to Miami, came to mind, says the director. (Photo courtesy of Armando Colls)

 “I remember when discussing featuring emerging artists and Diana Contreras  —also known as Didi Rock, a Peruvian-American artist born in 1981 with ties to Miami—was suggested. We decided to incorporate her work into the gallery in the theater and on the stage, viewing it as a special addition that contributes to the uniqueness of the production. This inclusion is akin to presenting a gift to Miami, showcasing our love and appreciation for the city,” says Collado. 

With GableStage Producing Artistic Director Bari Newport, the two brainstormed ideas to include Newport’s desire for the stage to become a welcoming space for those unfamiliar with it.

“Recognizing the importance of community engagement, I immediately reached out to Lucy López, a highly regarded figure in Miami’s radio industry, to collaborate on involving the local community . . . leading to the concept of featuring a Miami influencer as a DJ for each performance,” says Collado.

Gaby Tortoledo says she can’t wait to introduce the character of Estella, the over-the-top movie-star mother, to GableStage audiences.

Venezuelan-born Gaby Tortoledo plays over-the-top mother, Estella, in “Laughs in Spanish.” (Photo courtesy of Eric Campbell)

“Estella is a huge character, and I knew from the moment I was asked to read for her that she was the role of a lifetime. During callbacks and before starting rehearsal I worked with my mentor, Michael Leeds, to find the gravitas of this woman; and I learned to feel free and honest inhabiting the world of a woman 20 years my senior,” says the Venezuelan-born actor.

“I also did some research studying Sofia Vergara, especially her character of Griselda in the namesake Netflix series. And (I also referenced) Kris Jenner, who similarly is a global icon, ‘momager’ extraordinaire, and constantly stealing the spotlight from her family. Once rehearsals began, Vicky was wonderful at allowing me to just play with Estella… working out scenes with the freedom to find every color in her spectrum: from a very real and very flawed human being to largerthanlife movie star galore.” 

Also in the cast are Mariana Mondragon, Marcela Paguaga, William Guevara, Magali Trench, and Ernesto Gonzalez. 

Tortoledo says that her character is the epitome of the Miami dream: an immigrant who escaped a dire situation in her country, then managed to build a new life for herself in Miami doing what she loves, which later propelled her onto the global stage. 

“For many of us who come to the United States from South America, Miami is the gateway we use. It’s a city where, like Estella, we can start in this country without judgment, with opportunities. Even if we have an accent or our English isn’t perfect, we can find a taste of home on almost every corner.”  

WHAT: “Laughs in Spanish” by Alexis Scheer 

WHERE: GableStage in the Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables 

WHEN:  Opens 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25;  2 and 7:30 p.m., Wednesday; 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through June 23. Streaming available at regular performance times beginning May 31 through June 23.

COST:  $45, $50, $60, $65, all with additional $10 service fee (discounts for students, teachers, artists, military and groups). $30 for streaming tickets.

INFORMATION:  305-445-1119 or gablestage.org

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com 

 

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