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The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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MCLA Theatre Lab Gets Ready to Tango with Tango Palace and Dr. Kheal


The MCLA theater department puts on a variety of shows during the Fall semester. This year, the roster of performances held includes a main stage performance of Antigone by Sophocles (translated by Anne Carson) in November, in addition to a Theatre Lab performance of two plays, Tango Palace and Dr. Kheal, in early December. Both of these plays were written by Cuban-American playwright María Irene Fornés (1930-2018) in the 1960s.

Fornés, who was born in Havana, Cuba, immigrated to the United States in the year 1951. Fornés wrote over fourty plays in nearly four decades beginning in the year 1963 with the aforementioned Tango Palace, originally performed under the title There! You Died. Fornés continued to engage in playwriting until the year 2000. During these four decades, Fornés accomplished many feats in the world of theater, including but not limited to being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her play What of the Night? (1990).

As stated on the Auditions page of the MCLA website, “for decades Fornés was sidelined by critics as avant-garde because she didn’t follow traditional playwriting rules, but now, theatre artists are working to change the narrative.” “Fornés didn’t like labels,” the passage continues to explain, “but she and her plays have been described by many as groundbreaking, diverse, centering women characters, experimental, difficult, lesbian, feminist, award-winning, life-changing.”

The shows that make up MCLA’s Theatre Lab differ from the school’s main-stage performances. The director of Tango Palace and Dr. Kheal, Georgia Dedolph ‘24, explains that, “Theatre Lab is a form of exploratory experience of theater at MCLA that puts on full scale productions, but cut down.” A Theatre Lab production is one that is smaller in scale than the main performances of the semester, as they, “have less set, less people, and more experimental flexibility to do the weird stuff,” states Dedolph.

Regarding the inspiration behind the choice to direct two of Fornés plays, Dedolph states, “My first instinct when I was asked to direct a play was to do a Maria Irene Fornés play.” This is partially due to Dedolph’s previous in-depth study on Fornés and her extensive catalog of work, completed through a research project as a part of the Feigenbaum Summer Research Institute on the MCLA campus.

“I looked at other plays by her, The Danube, along with others from What Of the Night and some other playwrights for good measure,” says Dedolph, “but settled on Tango Palace and Dr. Kheal because of how much there is.” Dedolph touches on the sheer complexity of these two shows, as they are, “truly action packed and full of stage combat, wild emotions, abstract ideas and confusing moments, and [Dedolph likes] a puzzle.”

The story of Tango Palace is one of intense emotion and the sheer complexity of humanity. “It is a fantastical and comedic exploration of what it means to be human, inhuman, or more than human,” Dedolph highlights. The play is, “about authority and resistance, free thought and rebellion,” as stated by Dedolph, and, “Tango Palace confronts artists, as Leopold struggles with the choice to compromise inspiration and passion for what is desired from him.” The crucial question this piece asks is: “is selling your art selling your soul?”

Dr. Kheal, on the other hand, “traps its audience in a deluge of commandments on humanity.” In both Tango Palace as well as in Dr. Kheal, “a seemingly all-knowing authority figure teaches us how things are “supposed” to be.” This translates to instructions on, “how to be civilized, how to exist in the “right” way in the world.”

This play explores the sensation in which artists struggle to conform to the normalcy expected of them, essentially, they, “can’t follow what is written on their cards,” Dedolph highlights. When both of Fornés’ plays are brought together as one, they “highlight these ideas, offering a feminist message about the survival of tenderness and feminine qualities in a patriarchal world.” 

For those interested in attending these performances, Tango Palace and Dr. Kheal will be performed on December 1st through the 3rd, 2023, in the MCLA Theatre Lab. Rachel Lamarre will portray Isidore, and Alison Blakeslee will play Leopold. The is directed by the aforementioned Georgia Dedolph, and Associate Professor of the Theatre department, Laura Standley, will supervise.

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