Theater for The New City Presents World Premiere of ‘Sotto Voce’

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Theater for the New City will present the world premiere of “Sotto Voce” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz from February 15 to March 9, directed by the author.

“Sotto Voce” is a dream play in which a passionate, Jewish-Cuban young man (Saquiel) sets out to recover memories of the S.S. St. Louis which, in 1939, left Nazi Germany for Cuba filled with Jewish refugees but was turned back by Cuba, U.S. and Canada. The young man’s grandaunt was on the voyage. He seeks out a prominent, elderly, German-born novelist (Bemadette) who, as a young woman, loved a Jewish man who was a passenger to Cuba on the ship. Saquiel assumes the place of her lost lover in her powerful imagination. They both begin to fantasize a metaphysical love affair in which they share the conundrum of coming to grips with memories of that “voyage of the damned.” She is trying to master them, he is seeking to understand them. The play venerates the supreme power of imagination that could bring these different people together.

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Franca Sofia Barchiesi (L) as a Germanborn novelist who is haunted by memories of the S.S. St. Louis which left Nazi Germany for Cuba filled with Jewish refugees but was turned back. She loved a Jewish man who was a passenger on the ship. Andhy Mendez (R) as a passionate, Jewish-Cuban young man who assumes the place of her lost lover in her powerful imagination. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Such an impossible love could only occur in another dimension, not the physical dimension. As a counterpoint to their experience, we meet the author’s understanding maid (Lucila), an undocumented immigrant from Colombia, who hordes her employer’s discarded writings (her “secret sorrows”) but is incapable of living to such an extent.

Essentially, the play is a beautiful story of an older woman and younger man who find a unity of souls through their relationship with history and literature. It illustrates a holding on to memory that is very prevalent among Cubans as it is with the Jewish people. Playwright Nilo Cruz was born into a Cuban family which immigrated to the U.S. from Matanzas, a province of Cuba, when he was ten. Though not Jewish, observes that there are many Jews in Cuba, who arrived there before and after World War II. “The Cubans understand the Jews in a way they would never be aware of,” he says. The play is not political, but it is rich with the refugee experience and with the emotional life of the characters.

The play was commissioned by Theater for the New City, with support from the New York State Council on the Arts, after TNC’s Executive Artistic Director, Crystal Field, met Mr. Cruz at the Bogota Theater Festival in 2012. The production has also received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Nilo Cruz. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The actors are Franca Sofia Barchiesi (as Bemadette), Andhy Mendez (as Saquiel) and Arielle Jacobs (as the maid, Lucila). Set design is by Adrian Jones. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Sound design is by Erik Lawson. Costume design is by Anita Yavich.

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Franca Sofia Barchiesi as a Germanborn novelist who is haunted by memories of the S.S. St. Louis. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
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Andhy Mendez as a passionate, JewishCuban young man who is obsessed with the S.S. St. Louis. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Andhy Mendez (Saquiel) was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to Miami, Florida at a young age. A ten year veteran of Univision’s Sabado Gigante, he is a graduate of The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. His theater credits include “Strawberry and Chocolate,” “Hamlet: Prince of Cuba,” “Between Two Worlds,” “Downside Risk,” “The Duchess of Malfi,” “I am a Camera,” “Macbeth: Let It Be,” “Pullman Car Hiawatha” and “Loved: In Four Shorts.” His film/TV credits include “Gunny,” “It’s My Party,” “Half a Perfect World,” “Cuban Blood,” “For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story,” “Orange Is The New Black,” “Golden Boy,” “Gossip Girl,” “NYC 22” and “Blue Bloods.”

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Arielle Jacobs as the understanding Colombian maid. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Arielle Jacobs (Lucila) starred as Nina Rosario in the four-time Tony & Grammy award winning Broadway musical “In The Heights,” appearing opposite composer/creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. In another world-premiere piece written by Nilo Cruz called “Farhad or the Secret of Being,” she played Farhad, a young Afghan girl who was raised as a boy to avoid social exile but then reaches puberty and struggles with the limitations of becoming a woman in the Middle East. She appeared in the original national tours of “In the Heights” (as Nina) and “High School Musical” (as Gabriella). Other credits include pre-Broadway workshops of “MASK” (directed by Richard Maltby, Jr.) and “Nightingale” (directed by Moises Kaufman). She starred as Julia in Shakespeare Theatre Company’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona: a Rock Opera.” Her TV/film credits include “Taxi Brooklyn,” “Commander in Chief,” “Dance War,” “Water Lilies” and “Disney’s 365.”

“Sotto Voce” will be presented February 15 to March 9, 2014 by Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave, NYC. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Sundays at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $20 gen. Adm., $15 seniors & students. The box office is (212) 254-1109; www.theaterfothenewcity.net.