Dallas — Cambalache Teatro en Español is one of the best kept secrets in the Dallas theater scene. It is a small, predominately Argentine company whose artistic director is an 80-something, self-taught Argentine woman, Beatriz Mariel. Her daughter, Mariana Mariel and several longstanding company members include actors Daniel Chamero, Cristian Muñoz (Chile) and Fernando Cabrera. They perform works by Latin American and Spanish playwrights exclusively in Spanish. It is one of two Dallas area companies that work predominantly in Spanish (the other is Teatro Flor Candela, another little jewel).
The word Cambalache is actually the title of a 1934 Argentine tango song by the prolific poet and songwriter Enrique Sánchez Discépolo. It is slang for a junkshop, bazaar, a place where anything goes. The song was written about what the author perceived to be the social and political debacle at the turn of the 20th century. Unfortunately, its lyrics are still relevant today. It describes a topsy-turvy world of upside-down values. The word is paradigmatic of Argentinean identity. It does not exist in the slang vocabularies of other Spanish-speaking countries.
As such, Cambalache, the company, puts forth its Argentinean and Latin American identity up front. Their audience is comprised of a significant Dallas population of educated Spanish speakers from various countries (Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, etc.) As such, they fulfill a unique niche in the Dallas area theater scene.
Their production of Las heridas del tiempo (The Wounds of Time) by Spaniard Juan Carlos Rubio (author of the well-known piece entitled Arizona, about the state’s hunt of undocumented persons by the Minute Men) displays their forté: strong acting choices within an intimate setting. The play is somewhat of a monologue with interactive parts, as it unfolds the story of David’s (Muñoz) recently deceased father, Rafael, in relationship to a bundle of his letters found in an unmarked box. By reading the letters, David uncovers (or believes he uncovers) a previously unknown aspect of his father’s rather methodical and controlled life.
Chamero plays the part of Juan, the letter writer, with his usual talent for character development. Both he and Muñoz have the ease and chemistry that come from years of working together as an ensemble. They are both seasoned character actors. A two-man piece, this play explores the family theme in an unusual way. It leads us to make assumptions, only to be debunked. Nothing is ever what it seems, and love need not be requited in order to exist. This play unravels gender-identity stereotypes in unpredictable and fresh ways.
Staged at the Bath House Cultural Center, a Latino/a friendly space for smaller companies, the black box offers the opportunity for an intimate audience experience. The set design (Fernando Cabrera) is minimal but pleasing to the eye, the lighting (Leo Soberano and Charlie Beavers) timely and deliberate, sound design (Edgar Alcántara) modest but to the point, and the make-up (Mariana Mariel) appropriately aged Chamero to fit the part.
Co-directed by Mariel senior and junior, this mother-daughter team also displays the ease of many previous collaborations. Beatriz Mariel is a remarkable woman who took up the theater later in life right here in Dallas. She is as demanding as any professional director I have ever met. She has an unforgiving eye for the false line, the affect, the empty gesture. Her actors’ performances are whittled fine- tuned to perfection.
Cambalache Teatro en Español offers an evening of quality entertainment of cultural relevance to Spanish-speaking audiences. The piece is appropriate for mature high school age and over. The Bath House’s incomparable setting on White Rock Lake adds to the easy, old world feel of the evening’s quality entertainment. Las heridas del tiempo will make you think and possibly look at close family members in a different light. In one way or another, we all have our well-kept secrets, after all.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Theater in the Spanish Department at the University of North Texas. She also teaches in the UNT Department of Dance and Theater. She is a steering committee member of the national network, the Latina/o Theater Commons.