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Touch—in the form of a tentative handclasp—also figures in the closing moments of Gala’s Cita a Ciegas (“blind date”). It doesn’t carry the same electric, transformative power it bears in A Lesson Before Dying’s jailhouse visit, but then again it’s not meant to. In Mario Diament’s homage to the works of Jorge Luis Borges, the two characters who reach for each other at the final curtain do so to reassure themselves that they’ve somehow made it through life’s labyrinthine twists of fate to find each other once again.
Considering it’s Borges, it’s unsurprising that someone would actually mention a labyrinth sooner or later. And that’s not all: In this series of five interconnected dialogues, Diament’s characters also hold forth on fate, death, parallel worlds, and the nature of writing and writers—all the classic Borgesian bugaboos.
Set mostly on a park bench in Buenos Aires (the actors speak Spanish with Argentine accents), Cita a Ciegas is the tale of a small group of people bound together by fate. At the center of this web is an elderly writer (Hugo Medrano), who listens patiently as a banker (Manolo Santalla), a young sculptor (Gabriela Fernández-Coffey), and a mysterious woman (María Victoria Peña) sit down on his bench and tell him their life stories.
As that description implies, Cita a Ciegas is one frickin’ talky play. As always, if your Spanish is rusty or nonexistent, the English translation Gala projects above the stage is your friend. Be warned: This time out, given the sheer volume of text, the lines zip by at a fast clip.
Concerned that reading the surtitles might cause you to miss the onstage action? Don’t be: There, um, isn’t much. The actors pretty much just sit and talk. Admittedly this makes for a static evening of theater, but it’s also an intimate one. As befitting a small canvas, director José Carrasquillo paints with fine brushstrokes. You start to notice the subtler, quieter choices made by his actors: the appealing restlessness Fernández-Coffey lends her young sculptor and Peña’s quiet, steely resolve.
Once the connections between the characters have been revealed, however, the production doesn’t have anyplace else to go and quickly loses momentum. Diament attempts to correct for this in the last scene with a final twist he doesn’t really earn. It drew dutiful gasps from an opening-night audience, but it feels gratuitous in a way Borges never does.
Which is a shame, because it distracts from the good, unfussy work Peña and Medrano are doing in that last scene. We care about them, which is why the play’s seemingly mundane final image—a man and a woman hesitantly clasping hands—comes as close as it does to capturing the magic, and the realism, of Borges.