With just two actors and minimal set dressing, Studio Theatre’s Espejos: Clean by Christine Quintana relies on skillful storytelling and an excellent script to illustrate a heart-wrenching hierarchy of needs in two acts. We follow Adriana as she begins her 12-hour shift at a resort in Cancún. We hear about her day-to-day at the resort and slowly gather bits and pieces about her family and personal life. As we learn about her splintered family tree and the ensuing loss of her childhood sweetheart, we are brought into reality with a jolt as Adriana encounters Sarah — a resort guest hailing from Vancouver and the maid of honor at her sister’s destination wedding.
Throughout the two-hour play, Adriana’s and Sarah’s paths cross only thrice. Each moment causes a character to spiral into a symphony of existential dread and emotional compartmentalization. Though Sarah and Adriana are islands kept afloat by their love of (or need for?) solitude, it is in these moments of gentle commiseration and friction that they experience tangible change. The brilliance of the piece lies in its ability to capture individual thought processes and splash them onto the pristine white-tiled stage with its projections, literal dirt, and rich soundscape.
Director Elena Araoz and set designer Raul Abrego harness the power of negative space to give the actors a blank coloring book, ripe for imagination. White was a brilliant choice for the deck, and as the plot gets messier, bits of dirt and blobs of light seem to follow the actors as their ghosts inevitably corner them. Lighting and projection designers Alberto Segarra and Luis Garcia have created a lush dreamscape to encapsulate the audience in whichever space Adriana is currently exploring in her journey to find fulfillment.
The character Adriana speaks almost solely in Spanish, speaking in English only when she is conversing with Sarah. When she speaks Spanish, English subtitles are projected onto the upstage wall and shown on screens on either side of the house, and vice versa when Sarah is speaking English. Studio Theatre did an excellent job seamlessly transitioning from English to Spanish subtitles, and this feature forces us to examine what accessibility really means. Legna Cedillo (Adriana) uses her extensive acting chops and luminous cadence to buoy us ruthlessly from plot point to plot point, using the power of stillness to throw the audience off balance. It is in these moments that we are forced to feel Adriana’s rippling despair and fierce joy. Cedillo is truly a class act.
Sarah, played by Lauren Karaman, possesses that same relentless forward momentum felt in Cedillo’s Adriana, with a hard twist. Sarah hungers for the truth in all things. She sees herself primarily as the family screw-up and staggers from self-flagellation to afternoon blackouts. This is all a coping mechanism, of course, masking a devastating act of predation that occurred in Sarah’s and her bride-to-be sister’s childhoods. When Sarah witnesses an incident of perceived sexual violence involving Adriana, Sarah takes it upon herself to approach Adriana and offer her well-meaning (if misguided) support. Without getting into spoilers, this moment forces Sarah to take a hard look at her own life and examine what a privilege it is to have the resources to pursue truth, and whether kindness is ever selfless.
Content Warning: Depictions of intoxication, depiction of injury, simulated intercourse, mentions of sexual assault, descriptions of imagined torture scenes.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 5 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Espejos: Clean plays through October 22, 2023, at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets ($35–$84, with low-cost options and discounts available), go online or call the box office at 202-332-3300.
COVID Safety: All performances are mask recommended. Studio Theatre’s complete Health and Safety protocols are here.