Many years after they met in high school, three women get together to remember the old days. They have gone in separate directions, and their grudges have fermented with time. But there is one thing they all have in common that transcends their feuds and competition: None has a child, and all three want one.
This is the premise of “Three,” a play by Spanish dramatist Juan Carlos Rubio, but it is how the women decide to solve this problem that makes the play so endearing. Seeking to conceive, the women use manipulation, bribery, and an old yearbook to secure the right father – but just when you think you know where the story is heading, a series of plot twists intervenes.
This weekend, The Little Theatre Group (LTG) presents a newly translated English version of the play. But how did such an obscure play find its way here? And what compelled Costa Rica’s only English-language theater company to produce it?
“It’s a funny story,” says Annette Hallett, LTG’s producer, with a chuckle.
Originally from Great Britain, Hallett lived for years in Bermuda with her husband Bruce before the couple moved to Costa Rica. Earlier this year, Bermuda veteran Cleo Pettitt visited the Halletts for three weeks. Pettitt is a scene and costume designer, so the Halletts took her to a play in San José called “100 Square Meters.”
“Although I couldn’t understand a word of it,” remembers Hallett, “I really enjoyed it.”
The Spanish-language play took place at the Vargas Calvo Theater and was produced by TICTAK Theater Company. The play is an offbeat comedy, much like “Three,” about a couple trying to buy real estate, but they must wait for the current tenant to die.
After the show, Pettitt mentioned that she knew the playwright and could contact him easily. The Halletts were delighted, and they began a correspondence with Rubio, using Google Translate to compose their emails and translate his replies. As it turned out, Rubio had a play called “Tres” that had never been performed in English. (You can find a NSFW poster of a past production on Rubio’s website.)
“I told him, if we can do it professionally, we will,” said Hallett.
Rubio is not a household name in Costa Rica, but he is an accomplished actor and has written extensively for Spanish television. For Spanish-speaking theatergoers, “100 Square Meters” was a hit, receiving a lot of good word from critics and patrons. Rubio’s work has been performed around the world, but to see two Costa Rican productions of his plays in one year is landmark.
LTG tested the play at the International Book Fair in August. The production starred Silvia Baltodano, Antoinette Van Belle, Chusi Castillo Hidalgo, and Ricardo Jiménez and was directed by Noel Montagano. (Most of the cast remains intact for this production). The free show was performed twice during the fair.
“Backstage, I was nervous,” remembers Hallett. “I started to wonder if we’d made the wrong decision.”
Indeed, “Three” has some raunchy language and subject matter. The characters smoke pot, drink heavily, and talk frankly about sex and pregnancy. Hallett was concerned how a Costa Rican audience would respond to topics like extramarital trysts and artificial insemination – not to mention a colorful range of vituperate language. Meanwhile, there was some concern about whether a Spanish play, no matter how well translated, would make as much sense in English.
But audiences responded well: The house was packed, the show earned a lot of laughs, and comments afterward were resoundingly positive. Hallett and her LTG colleagues felt vindicated, and they decided to produce a ticketed version in November.
For Hallett, the decision to produce “Three” expands LTG’s possibilities.
“We could just do the classics – Broadway, West End,” she says. “Or we have the opportunity to do new works that are directed to the culture in which we live. Our mission has always been to open up theater to Costa Rica. That’s what I want to do.”