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Inside "Baipás" at George Street Playhouse

By Charles Paolino

originally published: 03/01/2022

Inside "Baipás" at George Street Playhouse

Baipás, the play that will reignite the George Street Playhouse season, is, in theatrical parlance, a “two-hander,” which means that it has two characters.

But that’s only partly true. There are only two actors, but, without saying a word, the audience in this play by Jacobo Morales, plays a role—in fact, multiple roles—that are important to the story.

Baipás, being presented in English for the first time, March 1 through March 20, finds Lorena (Maggie Bofill) and Antonio (Jorge Luna) together in a state suspended between life and death. Each—in his and her physical bodies—has barely survived a traumatic experience and is being treated in a hospital OR. Meanwhile, some other manifestations of their selves are in what they deduce is a sort of waiting room from which they will either return to their previous lives or pass on to—to what? That is the question. And which way would they prefer to go—back to life and the problems that would still await them there or into the unknown? That is another question. 

Inside "Baipás" at George Street Playhouse

Only casually acquainted before arriving at this crossroads, Maggie and Jorge engage in a dialogue in which they reveal more and more of themselves and understand better and better the future that could lie before them—together—if that’s what they choose.

As their relationship evolves, detached for the moment at least, from their past sins and mistakes and from whatever might await them on “the other side,” Lorena and Antonio awaken to the often-neglected treasure of the present.

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“I do believe that’s at the core of this,” Bofill said. “Between what’s regretting what’s already happened and worrying about what’s ahead, we sacrifice the now.”

Jacobo Morales, who wrote this play in Spanish and introduced it in 2012, is thought by many to be the film director par excellence in Puerto Rico; he was nominated for an Oscar for his 1990 film, Los que le pasó a Santiago. He is also an actor, poet, and playwright. 

Inside "Baipás" at George Street Playhouse

Jorge Luna, a native of Puerto Rico, said that he grew up watching Morales on a political-satire television show, but he praised the range of Morales’ achievements since then. “This is a real renaissance man,” Luna said. “He does it all.”

Both actors—Bofill’s heritage is Cuban—said they hoped introducing mainland audiences to Morales’ work would be a step toward greater understanding of the importance of Puerto Rican culture in American life.

Luna said that, as an actor, he has at times been “beholden to the color of my skin and the sound of my name. This is a playwright who is not bound by stereotypes. It is very freeing to speak his words in a land that has been quite demarcated by these ‘boxes.’ Luckily, now things are changing.”

As for those words, Morales’ language, Luna described it as “Shakespearean.”

As a bilingual actor, Luna is conscious of the fact that English is direct in making its points whereas Spanish “is very thorough in the way we speak.” In many instances, Spanish uses more words than English does to express the same concept, what Luna calls, concerning Baipás, “the over-decoration of how these characters speak.”

“I totally agree with Jorge,” Maggie Bofill said. “The language is beautiful,” and she said that the actors and director-choreographer Julio Monge, who also has a Puerto Rican heritage, consult and draw on the original text. 

She described Morales as “so profound and funny and deep” and this play as “So human, so spiritual, so questioning, so sexy, so silly.”

Inside "Baipás" at George Street Playhouse

As in, say, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Lorena and Antonio do not pretend the audience isn’t present. On the contrary, they speculate as to who those people are and what part they play in the drama now unfolding. The actors question the audience and occasionally see a face out there that they might recognize.

The audience, Bofill said, truly constitutes a third character, “whatever we need them to be, whatever we’re afraid they are, whatever we determine they will be.”

Bofill describes this experience for the audience as “inclusive, not intrusive.”

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“We’re far away from them,” she said. “We don’t demand anything of them except their attention, their focus. I’d like to think they’ll find it exciting and be more personally invested in the play. I’d like to think they’ll feel joy and intrigue and be provoked to think a lot, in a good way.”

Luna said his dramatic training included situations in which he had to address the audience directly, and he relishes that dynamic.

“It’s the three of us doing this,” he said. “I feel that the audience is more included in terms of ‘Let’s unlock this puzzle together.’” 

The play will be performed on Wilson Chin’s stark, one might say ambiguous set that is fitting for a story that is more about questions than answers.

“The lighting and the music are going to help,” Bofill said, “but it’s really only us in a landscape of emotions.”

Inside "Baipás" at George Street Playhouse

George Street Playhouse presents Baipás from March 1 — March 20, 2022 in The Arthur Laurents Theater at New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (11 Livingston Avenue) in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Click here for ticket information.

Photos by T. Charles Erickson

For more by Charles Paolino, visit his blog.



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