You have all winter to catch the flu, but only two more weeks this fall to come down with Tango Fever in New York. Written by Meri Wallace and directed by Teatro LATEA’s artistic director José A. Esquea, this delightful play-with-dance features an international cast of actor-dancers schooled in the moves and the passion of tango.
There’s a romantic mystique about Argentina’s tango culture, deriving from the sensual moves of the dance itself but also from the glitzy shows created for tourists and touring. By contrast, at a real-people Buenos Aires milonga the atmosphere isn’t that far removed from that of, say, a Lions’ Club dinner (though with much more dancing), and if true romance is in the air it is but fitfully so. Tango Fever delves into the romantic-fantasy side of tango culture through the medium of a melodramatic but pleasantly engrossing story of passion and infidelity.
Set in the U.S., the tale centers around a once-passionate amateur dancer named Ana, played both with and against gravity by the superb Mariana Parma. Stuck with a homebound husband afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome and perpetual whininess (Eduardo Goytia), she ventures alone to a tango class at a dance studio run by the crusty but twinkly-eyed Mr. Muro (Nelson R. Landrieu), where she has a fateful meeting with Paul/Pablo, the studio’s handsome young Lothario. Playing Paul is the award-winning Argentinian dancer and choreographer Esteban Domenichini, whose most prominent recent credit is as the lead dancer in the international tango musical Tanguera, so you know Teatro LATEA (with its producing partner Howling Moon Cab Company) isn’t kidding around when it comes to tango. And the dancing in this show is all-around exquisite.
While Ana and Paul have the most romantic dance sequences, the rest of the cast gets fine opportunities too. Just one example: Teresa Anne Volgenau has a lovely and sad featured dance as the girlfriend whom Paul casts aside when he falls for Ana. There’s a captivating three-person dance sequence as Ana agitates over whether she’s really going to leave her husband for Paul. Buenos Aires-born Cecilia Saia (Forever Tango) and Obie winner Ed Trucco impress both as actors and as dancers, as Erin and John, a couple involved in a parallel love triangle. Ms. Saia gives Erin a heart-tugging pathos while Mr. Trucco conveys in a few lines the pain that has turned him into the callous-seeming fellow who at first appears to be meant as little more than a crude foil for the sweepingly romantic Paul.
The thoughtfully chosen recorded music selections, while mostly tango-oriented, also include romantic ballads and more (hello, Adele), and the dancing isn’t pure tango – elements of modern dance infuse the solo numbers. The script is nicely crafted and funny where it needs to be, the acting solid all around (even on the part of the thick-accented Mr. Domenichini, who sometimes lapses into Spanish). But it would be all for naught without the artful, romantic choreography of Valeria Solomonoff, the true unseen star of the show. Kudos to her and the whole team behind this Lower East Side winner.
Tango Fever runs through Oct. 7 at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center, 107 Suffolk Street, NYC. Get tickets online or call (212) 868-4444. Visit Teatro LATEA’s website for more information.