From basement theater to abandoned monastery to rented venues and even an illegally converted storage space, Instituto Arte Teatral Internacional (IATI), a New-York based non-profit and bilingual Latinx theater company, has relocated, persevered, and made its mark all over the city. Founded in 1968 by Venezuelan director, Abdón Villamizar, and a group of Latino writers and actors, IATI inhabited many spaces before forming a consortia and moving into its permanent location at 64 East 4th Street. Dedicated to servicing local communities and promoting Latino voices, it is now celebrating its 50th anniversary season with a production entitled Three on a Match.
The company’s productions are done in the Spanish and English languages, with an emphasis on highlighting Latino experiences as well as bringing “art into the lives of those in poverty, ethnic and cultural isolation.” IATI seeks to support artists and works that are bold, experimental, and complex; it does not shy away from the socially relevant, the political, or the challenging. Accordingly, Three on a Match, written by Rhett Martinez and directed by Eric Parness, “is an allegorical drama examining the legacy of state terrorism in Latin America.”
Sean Phillips and Elisa De la Roche. Photo by Jonathan Slaff courtesy Instituto Arte Teatral Internacional
Rosa Rodriguez. Photo by Jonathan Slaff courtesy Instituto Arte Teatral Internacional
The play, which runs until March 17, 2018, reflects on the phenomenon of “disappearance” during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” as well as similar experiences in other South American countries in the late-80’s and years following. It begins within the confines of an abandoned hotel in an unnamed but collapsing South American city. Three characters, each equipped with their own traumatic past, are introduced: the Girl Bellboy, the Haberdasher, and the Queen of Islas Colinas. The sole inhabitants of the hotel, they survive by constructing a semblance of order and civility that is separate from the chaotic remnants of revolution right outside their door. Unexpectedly, an American arrives. The three are then forced to defend themselves against his imperialistic goals and overpowering nature. In a play that shifts seamlessly from reality to magical realism to absurdity, the characters and their interactions provide insight into the nature of control and domination, the results of war, and the difference between what it means to be dead or “to have been disappeared.”
The Haberdasher (Angus Hepbiurn) reads a censored newspaper. Photo by Jonathan Slaff courtesy Instituto Arte Teatral Internacional
Elisa De la Roche. Photo by Jonathan Slaff courtesy Instituto Arte Teatral Internacional
The theater space itself is intimate and cozy, and without a traditional stage the audience must walk through the set in order to take their seats. Playwright Rhett Martinez links the setting of the play to his fascination with the aesthetic of the early 1900’s, particularly the complicated dynamic of that which is “civilized on the outside, corrupt on the inside.” He continues, “The Grand Hotel was once opulent. The current inhabitants were never even there during its opulent time, but they are trying to hold on to that civility, that refinement, as the real world around them crumbles. The hotel is a refuge from that real world. And it’s also a reminder of how good life could be.” The play is simply yet powerfully designed with deep red walls, elegant hotel furniture and fixtures, as well as suspended, wave-like ribbons of white fabric. Director Eric Parness notes that these ribbons are “both subtle and overt scenic elements” meant to “provide a sense of motion, imbalance, ephemera, and are even subtly violent.”
As the anniversary production, Three on a Match accurately reflects the values of IATI and will encourage viewers to contemplate issues of legacy and identity, both on individual and societal levels. Parness observes that “this “grand hotel,” now in a state of neglect and even decay, was originally built to attract and appeal to foreigners, and one of the questions the play asks is when does one go from being an outsider in a country to someone who truly belongs.” It is a performance that will leave the viewer satisfied yet unnerved, considering at once the human fascination with power and control as well as the controversial actions an individual must take for self-preservation.
The Bellhop (Rosa Rodriguez) overcomes The American (Sean Phillips) with the theremin. Photo by Jonathan Slaff courtesy Instituto Arte Teatral Internacional
In addition to regular performances during the season, IATI also hosts a children’s theater which travels to schools and libraries, as well as on-site workshops for artists that occur in an intimate, personal setting. Its “Tertulia” events are meant to involve the community and invite a broad range of artists to participate in a free open mic event. IATI also hosts “Cimientos,” which means “foundations” in Spanish, a ten-week workshop and reading series that serves as a key part of a playwright’s development process.