|TELL HECTOR I MISS HIM|
The darker side of Puerto Rican culture is brought vividly to life in “Tell Hector I Miss Him,” an accomplished debut effort by Paola Lazaro, now at Atlantic Theater Stage II. Assembling a disparate yet interconnected group of characters who reside on the edges of society in San Juan, Lazaro – aided here by an expert ensemble cast under David Mendizabal’s assured direction – paints a moving portrait of men and women struggling, mostly less-than-successfully, to improve their lives.
Clint Ramos’ unit set, which looks like a cross between a dank basement and dungeon, actually stands in for a variety of locations: including the store run by the stalwart, highly moral Mostro (Juan Carlos Hernandez) who is married to the surprisingly complex Samira (Selenia Levya); the plaza where drugs are sold by brothers Jeison (a particularly excellent Victor Almanzar) and Polito (Sean Carvajal); and the house where teenaged Tono (a very fine Alexander Flores) lives with his consistently drunk single mom (Lisa Ramirez, making the most of her stage time).
During the two-plus hours we spend with them, all of these characters will make potentially life-altering mistakes and face potentially life-altering decisions, sometimes when they least expect it. For example, Tono has befriended a strange American girl who initially only says “meow” (well played by Talene Monahan), but once he learns the whole reason she is alone in San Juan, he must choose whether to act as a true friend at the cost of leaving home.
One of the most interesting of the show’s many subplots revolves around the unlikely, burgeoning friendship between Malena (the superb Dascha Polanco), a red-hot party girl with a seemingly cold heart, and Isis (the beguiling Yadira Guevara-Prip), a 16-year-old lesbian who instantly professes her infatuation with the 26-year-old Malena. The scene where the two women, along with Polito’s bitchy ex-girlfriend Tati (a convincing Analisa Velez), end up examining each other’s genitals (we see nothing, seemingly they see everything) is wonderfully written.
Nonetheless, I think Lazaro might have done well to eliminate some of the show’s personae, most notably sad sack Hugo (Flaco Navaja) and the high-spirited, frankly annoying El Mago (Luis Vega); their relationship seems a tad forced and they aren’t really entwined with the other characters. And while a scene between these two men in the middle of act two finally explains the show’s title, that seems like another rookie mistake on Lazaro’s part. When you’re thinking more about what a show’s title means than the show itself, it’s not a good thing! Fortunately, your mind should only drift intermittently during “Tell Hector I Miss Him.”
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Victor Almanzar, Sean Carvajal, Alexander Flores, Yadira Guevara-Prip, Juan Carlos Hernández, Selenis Leyva, Talene Monahon, Flaco Navaja, Dascha Polanco, Lisa Ramirez, Luis Vega, Analisa Velez
Atlantic Theater Co. Stage 2
330 West 16th Street
New York, NY 10011