Review: In "Lío," Trouble Rides the Waves to Puerto Rico


Written by Ian Robles

Directed by Mario Colón

Presented by Teatro Círculo

64 East 4th Street, Manhattan, NYC

March 15-31, 2024

Presented in Spanish and English with English supertitles

Karina Curet, Bryan J. Cortés, and Jorge Sánchez Díaz. Photo by Rubén Darío Cruz
The opening of Puerto Rican playwright Ian Robles's Lío, making its world premiere as part of bilingual theater company Teatro Círculo's 30th anniversary season, finds its title character laying prone with a long rope, which it transpires is connected to a fishing net, tied around his wrist. This opening image suggests a man in bondage as much as it does a fisherman, and nets, which dominate the set design, continue as a metaphor through this sharp, entrancing, sometimes dreamlike critique of imperialism, which sees Teatro Círculo back at its newly renovated home on East 4th Street. But first, Lío, whose name could be translated as trouble or mess, drags up something from the sea that portends seismic changes both for him and for his island nation.
Jorge Sánchez Díaz as Lío. Photo by Rubén Darío Cruz
The year is 1898 when we meet the impoverished Lío (Jorge Sánchez Díaz) and he in turn meets an American marine named Chris (Bryan J. Cortés), who has arrived in Puerto Rico as part of America's campaign against Spain but has become separated from his squad. Despite their difficulties in communicating (Lío does not speak English, and Chris knows about the number and type of Spanish words that one might expect any randomly selected white American to know), Chris takes a liking to Lío and ensures that their paths cross again. Lío's mother, Tere (Karina Curet), is resistant to this development, to put it mildly, but Chris, along with what he represents, isn't going anywhere. The Spanish-American War may be ending, but the American presence in Puerto Rico is far from over, and the play will take us through more of this history, artfully using only these three characters to open onto a much larger scope.
Bryan J. Cortés as Chris. Photo by Rubén Darío Cruz
More than once, when Lío is calling for his (mostly absent, and never seen) father, Chris ends up appearing instead, a confusion that underscores the paternalism of the United States' imperial project. On an individual scale, Chris may, often at least, be trying sincerely to be helpful to Lío and Tere, but good intentions negate neither the paternalism of his own gestures nor the exploitation that Lío undergoes as Puerto Rico's economy falls under the sway of American corporate power. Nor do offers of personal assistance justify the larger imperialist project of which Chris is a part. Meaningfully, when the question is not a proposed personal favor but whether the United States has arrived not merely to liberate Puerto Rico from the Spanish but to grant it independence, Chris falls back on an equivocating version of "it's complicated."
Karina Curet as Tere. Photo by Rubén Darío Cruz
The production benefits from excellent sound design, from ambient sounds of waves and gunshots and artillery to the intrusion at one point of garishly patriotic American music. The boat prow upon which we first see Lío, cleverly used to stand in at other times for anything from a table to a car, sits atop a painted floor that suggests the entirety of the island, helping to emphasize the wider import of scenes such as those in which Lío and Tere are made to parrot English sentences or a memorably phantasmagorical sequence in which the pair literally internalize imperialism. Cortés as the protean Chris and Curet as the ailing but principled Tere are both impressive, while Sánchez Díaz delivers a marvelous performance as Lío, enhanced by an expressive, emotive physicality. Lío brings us a sometimes funny, always atmospheric encounter with the beginnings of an imperialistic entanglement that remains unresolved to this day.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards 


Popular posts from this blog

Review: The Immersive "American Blues: 5 Short Plays by Tennessee Williams" Takes Audiences on a Marvelously Crafted Journey

Review: Nancy Redman’s "A Séance with Mom" Conjures Mother-Daughter Hilarity and Love

Review: From Child Pose to Stand(ing) Up: "Yoga with Jillian" and "Penguin in Your Ear" at the Women in Theatre Festival