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(photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Relationship between Mostro (Juan Carlos Hernández) and Samira (Selenis Leyva) is tested in TELL HECTOR I MISS HIM (photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Atlantic Stage 2
330 West 16th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 19, $35-$60

Paola Lázaro’s debut play, Tell Hector I Miss Him, comes alive with the rhythms of real life, moving to the energy of salsa music. Inspired by actual events, Lázaro, who was born and raised in San Juan and has degrees from Purchase and Columbia, explores love and hope, machismo and girl power in a tight-knit Puerto Rican slum centered around a bodega run by the highly principled and old-fashioned Mostro (Juan Carlos Hernández) and his wife, Samira (Orange Is the New Black’s Selenis Leyva). As the play opens, an offstage couple is going at it heavily, the woman calling the shots. “Fuck me like I’m a trash bag. Like I don’t mean nothing to you. Like you don’t like me,” she cries out. “But you do mean something to me and I do like you,” the man responds. “But I don’t want you to like me! So fuck me like you don’t like me,” she demands again. The play follows twelve people as they go about their days, hitting various highs and lows. Sixteen-year-old Isis (a dynamic, scene-stealing Yadira Guevara-Prip) declares her undying passion for twenty-six-year-old Malena (OITNB’s Dascha Polanco), who is not gay but does not mind the unexpected attention. The not-too-bright Palito (Sean Carvajal) sells drugs with his hardheaded brother, Jeison (Victor Almanzar), while devoting himself to Malena’s best friend, Tati (Analisa veleZ), who is just using him. The simple-minded Toño (Alexander Flores), whose Mami (Lisa Ramirez) is a junkie, has been thrown out of high school for making the moves on a teacher. And the deeply depressed Hugo (Flaco Navaja), whose wife has moved out, develops an unusual friendship with El Mago (Luis Vega), a hippie magician who lives on the streets. Meanwhile, a mysterious young white woman called La Gata (Talene Monahon) roams around like an alley cat, saying nothing except “Meow.”

(photo by Ahron R. Foster)

Malena (Dascha Polanco) is wooed by Isis (Yadira Guevara-Prip) in Paola Lázaro’s debut play (photo by Ahron R. Foster)

The play unfolds in a series of vignettes on Clint Ramos’s appropriately dank set, where the bodega is down the stairs of an old fort, between stone walls that form a kind of dungeon, trapping the residents of this community; above is a horizontal row of eight monitors showing the gentle waves lapping at the Puerto Rican shore, an effect that is both calming and representative of a bigger world outside that most of the characters might never get to know. Director David Mendizábal (Look Upon Our Lowliness, Locusts Have No King) pays heed to Lázaro’s stage directions in the script, which include such notes as “Fast as fuck” and “Fast, but not as fuck.” A protégée of Stephen Adly Guirgus’s, Lázaro, who is also an actress — she was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play for Ramirez’s To the Bone in 2015 — leaves some of the dialogue in Spanish, without translation, but audiences will get the point; much of the English dialogue crackles. “That’s why I stopped shaving my ass. That shit itches,” Tati tells Malena. Commenting on Malena’s aroma, Isis says, “It smells like a walk through the most beautiful botanical garden in the most exotic place in the world. It smells like the whole world, all the races, united to create a floral scent and not because they were forced to by a government, but because they wanted to. The races wanted to unite and create the scent of the world.” At 140 minutes with an intermission, the play is probably about twenty minutes too long; a few scenes could use some trimming, and the ending could come sooner, but Lázaro thankfully never provides any easy answers while avoiding genre clichés, and the ensemble is solid throughout. Tell Hector I Miss Him, which has been extended at the Atlantic’s Stage 2 through February 19, introduces a vibrant, exciting new voice to New York theater.

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