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Romantic intrigue comes to Sunnyside theater

By Arlene McKanic

The Thalia Theatre, tucked between mom-and-pop stores on a triangular street in Sunnyside, will be celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Right now, the cast of “La Callas y Medea” is rehearsing for their May 18 world premiere.

But before this, “Caribe” will be presented on April 28. This revue features Caribbean songs from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, sung by Anissa Gathers, who starred in the musical “Celia.” On Sunday, April 29, at 4 p.m. there will be a program of romantic Latin music like boleros or zarzuelas, which, according to theater director Angel Gil Orrios, is especially beloved of older audiences. These songs will be sung by Ilya Martinez and Rafael Lebron.

The upcoming “La Callas y Medea” was written by 82-year-old Jaime Salom, one of the most eminent Spanish playwrights. It stars Spanish actress Soledad Lopez as Medea and Puerto Rican actress Kathy Tejada as Maria Callas. The play is presented in a sort of reality show format where, according to director Orrios, the women hash out their problems with their men. Callas, of course, had to deal with Aristotle Onassis, the troll-like Greek shipping magnate who dumped her for Jackie Kennedy. Medea’s bane is Jason, the fickle argonaut who threw her over for an obscure princess.

“It’s like a reality show where the wife and the lover of the man are both on so they can fight over him,” says Orrios. “At the end you don’t know who’s going to go on stage, as if the actress has become the character. Who is the actor? Or is it the character who has possessed the body of the actress?”

“La Callas” is translated by G.J. Racz, one of the best translators of Spanish works.

But what’s intriguing about this play, besides the fact that it will be performed for the first time at the Thalia, is that it will be performed in both English and Spanish.

“What’s interesting for me is that I’ve been doing this for 30 years and for the last 20 I’ve been doing plays in English and Spanish,” says Orrios. “The language is so important. It changes the rhythm, they’re like two different productions. The audience reacts differently to English or Spanish, especially when they’re comedies. Even the punchlines become completely different.”

Switching the languages is a bit of a challenge for the cast, including Tejada, and Raúl Julia the younger, who plays both Onassis and Jason.

“It helps to know the dialogue,” says Julia, who also admits that English was easier for him because it’s his first language. “More importantly, it helps to know the story.”

“My brain isn’t quite as flexible,” admits Tejada. “It’s a great experience but it’s really challenging. It’s fascinating to see how your brain goes back and forth between the languages. It’s like two different plays”

Like most theaters, the Thalia is struggling a bit now, but they’re also happy because people are returning. The audience increased about 20 percent over the last year.

“People don’t want to stay home,” Orrios says. “They want to go out and enjoy life.”

The Thalia is also conducting their acting workshop for children, focusing on Mexican and Spanish dancing, including flamenco.

“La Callas y Medea” will run at the Thalia from May 18 through June 24.

If You Go

Thalia Theatre

41-17 Greenpoint Ave.

Sunnyside

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