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Blade to the Heat Goes Spanish

Blade to the Heat Goes Spanish

Blade to the Heat lives again, even more sexy and caffeinated and Caribbean-accented than ever, reborn as Filo Al Fuego, which opened last week in Spanish at the Prometeo Theatre in Miami. It's more than a translation of my original play, which received its world premiere at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in 1994 directed by George C. Wolfe, and which Madonna wanted to make into a movie (it hasn't happened yet). Translated into street Spanish primarily by director Joann Maria Yarrow and the author, Filo is in many ways a new play altogether; now it's set in 1962 Miami, just before the Bay of Pigs debacle, in the hothouse world of boxing that Muhammad Ali would soon make famous. It was a time when ethnicity and sexual identity were often sublimated, derided, and ignored. Long before Stonewall and AIDS, it was a time when a single accusatory epithet could set one man against another on a collision course between life and death.

Why did we undertake this massive labor of love? For one thing, it's a helluva lot of fun. The play sounds hot in Spanish -- particularly now in this crazy xenophobic American moment when entire states enact racial and linguistic profiling and when we debate "don't ask, don't tell" one more time. Miami is one of many cities in the United States where Spanish is unapologetically the first language and also where gays and straights live in long-standing harmony. However, in Miami and nearly everywhere else, the sexual divide among Latinos over homosexuality remains wide and dangerous. Perhaps this is why the play sounds so hot in Spanish: every word and gesture signifies and adds to the considerable drama that is already there in the DNA of the place.

Three Spanish words stand out in the original text and signify even more in the new version. Tacticas are the coached attitudes and moves the boxers use to get ahead, in and out of the ring. Teatro is the high-stakes moment of coming out, guard down, and exploiting the other man's weakness, even while revealing one's own underbelly. But Maricon is the single word that cuts through the muscle and gut of the Latino boxing brotherhood, putting every boxer's touch and trainer's whisper into a new and uncomfortable context. The unfortunate truth is that not much has changed in the ensuing 40 years -- as an old Latino trainer once told me, his hands balled up into gnarled fists, "There are no gay boxers."

Drama is best at posing problems, asking questions, but occasionally the time arises for a play to pose more than a problem and do more than simply ask why. Filo Al Fuego takes a word meant to damage and to destroy and turns it into an emotional experience that bashes through stereotype and demands a painful progress from the audience.

The production at Prometeo is bold, with live music and choreographed fights that look a lot better than the usual professional pay per view. The actors come from the Prometeo conservatory training program, the only one in the nation that conducts its teaching totally in Spanish. The actors are gorgeous to look at and full of fire. The play will have subtitles in English (no reason for non-Spanish speakers to feel excluded), and there are entire scenes that mix the languages freely, as people do who live at the nexus of cultures. Joann Yarrow directs with fierce and open-eyed determination to get at a deeper truth about race and sexuality, and the terrible and beautiful ways that men treat men.

Why now? We hope that Filo Al Fuego finds a vibrant new audience of LGBT and straight Latino Americans, not only in Miami but throughout the States, turned on by the event and the explosive passions of the play, seeing a story unfold that they might never otherwise consider experiencing, and hearing the kind of Spanish that is seldom spoken onstage -- full of desire and hope, regret and venom, sex and loss.

Sounds pretty hot to me.

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Jon Barrett