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A CurtainUp Review
Tight Embrace

For each rule, think of an image, an unforgettable picture, that you make up to associate with the rule. The stronger the picture you make up, the harder it will be to forget. Then when you recall the image in your head, it will remind you what the rule is -- Adalina's advice to her young guard who has difficulty remember all the rules entailed in being her captor. One rule that she quickly persuades him to abandon pertains to the mask he's supposed to wear when on duty.

Zabryna Guevara in Tight Embrace
Zabryna Guevara
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
With television bringing images of political violence even into the homes of those of us lucky enough to have escaped first hand knowledge of its consequences, Tight Embrace which is being given its world premiere by Intar Theatre Company would seem to be a trenchantly timely drama. Playwright Jorgé Ignacio Cortiñas has created an all too realistic hostage drama. The setting is an outlaw regime in a vaguely familiar but unidentified Latin country where ordinary citizens -- even a very old woman and younger one who is six months pregnant -- are not safe from gun-wielding terrorists.

The state's higher ups are represented by two hooded men -- one a farmer, the other a mere boy, an underprivileged city kid trying to get together some money to help his impoverished mother. The hostages are a crafty octogenarian who's apparently been held captive in a Safe House for some time, pending her son's coming forward with ransom money, and a young journalist snatched from a car just before seeing her doctor for her six-month pregnancy checkup.

Mr. Cortiñas has spiced his tale of the women's horrendous dilemma and their captors' fuzzy commitment to their dictatorial superiors with a dose of magic realism The problem is that the play's realistic elements are almost more fantastic than the more surreal story telling. Whether in the straightforward present or in a sort of dream in which the whole cast participates, there are no real edge of the seat moments; nor are the ideas put forth especially fresh. In the final analysis Cortiñas' blend of realistic and imagined events loses out to the greater drama of our current reality and Tight Embrace often feels like a replay of other, more engrossing hostage and political prisoner plays. Lee Blessing's Two Rooms comes to mind, as do the musical and non-musical versions of The Kiss of the Spider Woman.

The production has an excellent director in Lisa Peterson who keeps events flowing smoothly. There are also two fine actresses on hand to play the hostages, Mia Katigbak as Adalina, the old lady, and Zabryna Guevara, as Claudia. Katigbak has the meatier and more tragic role, feeding us bits and pieces of her misguided tough love which turned her son into a military man who is apparently willing to abandon his mother rather than pay the ransom that would free her. Adalina's efforts to help the romantically inexperienced young guard woo a young woman he fancies are initially amusing but soon wear thin. So does the stage business about the umbrella she clings to because gives her a sense of having a roof over her head.

Zabryna Guevara, who was the linchpin character in Intar's terrific The Cook a few seasons ago, doesn't have much to work with here. The play does create a measure of suspense as to where this keystone cop terrorist operation will take us by the time Claudia's baby is due to be born, but somehow you're never fully caught up in the dark and dangerous situation, nor do the characters, even the hostages, stir any deep-felt emotion.

The production values are simple but effective, as is typical of this company which has done some splendid work. Moving their productions to the convenient Theatre Row location is sure to acquaint more people with what Intar does. This season that will include a New Works Lab from December 19 to Januarry 22nd, and two new plays: Points of Departure by Michael John Garces from March 7th to April 16th about indigenous Central Americans who at different points to and from America face their government's refusal to leth them speak their native tong; Windows by Sylvia Bofill from May 2nd to June 11th about three generations of Puerto Rican women.

Playwright: Jorgé Ignacio Cortiñas
Directed by Lisa Peterson
Cast: Mia Katigbak (Adalina), Zabryna Guevara (Claudia), Robert Jiménez (Zero), Andres Munar (Barquin), Marisa Echeverria (young girl from the town).
Set Design: Mikiko Suzuki
Costume Design:Meghan E. Healey
Lighting Design: Paul Whtaker
Sound Design: David M. Lawson
Running time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Intar Theater at the Kirk Theater on Theatre Row 212- 279-4200 or
From 11/22/05 to 01/02/06; opening 12/06/05.
Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm.
Tickets: $40 ($25 for Intar members)
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance
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