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Hartford Stage presents a bilingual tour de force

Hartford State's "Espejos: Clean" shows us that sisterhood is powerful, even and especially when misunderstanding abounds.

Hartford Stage presents a bilingual tour de force, but don’t let a little French phrase fool you. Truly, there is nothing quite like live theater to ward off the morbid, the sordid, and the thwarted. And the deaths last week of both Lisa Marie Presley and Gina Lollobrigida definitely got this girl down.

Fortunately, I had the great, good luck to swoop down to Connecticut for some quality time with my niece Hannah. And anyone who knows me understands I believe Connecticut is the actual promised land—because my favorite New Yorker cartoon implies as much.

Connecticut does boast some supercool theater including The Kate, The Goodspeed, and the venerable Westport Playhouse. But Hartford Stage is the only one with women entirely at the helm, which is obviously refreshing.

Led by Artistic Director Melia Bensussen and Managing Director Cynthia Martin, Hartford Stage is starting off 2023 with “Espejos: Clean,” a two-woman show in association with Syracuse Stage. The story takes place at a resort in Cancun, where the character Adriana (played by Emma Ramos) manages the housekeeping staff and where Sarah (played by Kate Abbruzzese) has traveled for her sister’s destination wedding.

Cover graphic courtesy of Hartford Stage.

From the audience’s perspective, these two women are telling two different stories, mostly in monologue form, but occasionally to each other as well as to theatergoers. When Adriana speaks her lines in Spanish, they appear above the stage translated as English supertitles. Similarly, Sarah’s lines in English are projected in Spanish supertitles, or surtitles, over the stage.

The stories that Adriana and Sarah convey weave in and out of the present, the past, and the imagined. That they interact as resort employee and resort guest from two very different cultural backgrounds, family histories, and economic realities is only part of the larger embedded narrative. Adriana and Sarah are working through their own stories, as in “we are the stories we tell.” They’re also trying to understand each other, relying as much on other means of communication besides words.

Eschewing any spoiler alert, suffice it to say that themes of intimate partner violence and sexual abuse figure into these characters’ psyches. And “Espejos: Clean” shows us that sisterhood is powerful, even and especially when misunderstanding abounds. This show also reveals the limits of trauma bonding insofar as individual and collective trauma are two different phenomena.

Ramos and Abbruzzese shine in this show. They exude a warmth and compassion toward each other’s storylines that is palpable, vocal, and visible. They also reflect each other in certain ways, which is telling, given what “espejos” literally means. Cue Google translate.

Hartford Stage’s production of “Espejos: Clean” is its first bilingual effort, in a city where roughly half the population speaks Spanish. My 17-year-old niece understood most of it without relying on the surtitles because she’s taken five years of Spanish. Kudos to her, and brava as well to director Melissa Crespo and the all-female crew behind this show.

“Espejos: Clean” runs through February 5. Tickets are available here.

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