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‘Baipás’ makes history at New Brunswick NJ theater

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There’s history in the making at George Street Playhouse.

The New Brunswick theater will present the English language premiere of “Baipás” from March 1 to 20, with opening night set for March 4.

Director/choreographer Julio Monge does not hesitate when asked what he loves about the two-hander: “Everything!”

“I love the meeting of the minds between these two characters,” he said. “The dance of minds. They’re so smart and everything they talk about, think about and express. It’s very stimulating and fascinating.”

Julio Monge is the  director and choreographer of

In a news release, George Street calls Jacobo Morales’ “Baipás” “a romantic pas de deux (that) presents a world in which two people are thrown into a strange place together and come to choose life and love.

“Faced with consequences of past choices and the possibilities of second chances, Lorena (Maggie Bofill) and Antonio (Jorge Luna) find themselves unexpectedly in one another’s arms — enchanted by the thrill of the unknown and enrapt by the seductive allure of a Bolero.” 

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Needless to say, GSP Artistic Director David Saint is looking forward to the production.

“We are truly honored to welcome the extremely talented, award-winning director/choreographer Julio Monge to George Street Playhouse for the American English-language premiere by Academy Award nominee Jacobo Morales, considered to be one of the most influential filmmakers in Puerto Rican history,” he said in a news release.

Morales has worked in television and film since he was 14. The first film he directed, “…And God Created Them” (1979), “is recognized as the marking point where Puerto Rico’s film industry evolved,” according to George Street. His third film, “Lo que le pasó a Santiago” (1989), was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1990.

Translation and negotiation

Monge praised the language of Morales’ piece, saying the strength and drama shines through in this English version. 

“In Spanish it has a quality, a lusciousness that’s quite hard to translate at times, but I thought the translation is pretty successful. I think that it still captures that essence, that smart mind of Jacobo. It’s what happens to all the great pieces: They are translated, and everyone uses their best effort to find that essence.”

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Monge said the audience also plays a key role in “Baipás.”

“(Morales) manages to make theater a metaphor and the characters’ lives get mixed up with the theater and the audience becomes a third character. And so audiences complete our sentences and become a part of the story. They’re going to be judges, accomplices. They’re going to be witnesses. There’s a flow and a very theatrical sort of experience that happens with these two characters and the audience in the in-between world space that they find themselves.”

Jorge Luna is one of the stars of

Monge says that the Bolero that is key to the plot is not the ballroom dance competition that may come to mind, but the Latin American Bolero, born in Cuba.

“That excuse to be close to your partner, to smell their perfume,” he said. “We’re not dancing all night, but there is that element, which is another element for that romantic soul.”

The show’s creative team also includes set designer Wilson Chin, lighting designer Jason Lyons, composer Javier Diaz, costume designer Harry Nadal, projection designer Caite Hevner, sound designer Germán Martínez and production stage manager Cheryl Mintz.

Universal language

Maggie Bofill stars in

Monge has directed and choreographed works all over the world. 

His directing credits include “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which he also produced and translated, at the Gay and Lesbian Theater Festival in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and co-direction of “West Side Story” at Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. His choreography credits include “The Somewhere Project,” celebrating Carnegie Hall’s 125th anniversary, as well as Tony Kushner’s translation of “Mother Courage and her Children” starring Meryl Streep at the Delacorte Theater, directed by George C. Wolfe.

Art and theater and dance are universal, Monge said.

“That experience of going to a different country and working with folks that are speaking a different language other than English or Spanish is fascinating because there are a lot of differences,” he said. “But working with top-notch artists, even though they are speaking a different language, it becomes we’re speaking the same language in a strange way. Pieces can transcend and be understood. It says a lot about the power of pieces like that. They can speak to everyone.”

‘West Side Story’

Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria in 20th Century Studios’

One of those pieces has been the new film version of “West Side Story.” Monge served as an artistic collaborator in the movie written by Tony Kushner and directed by Steven Spielberg.

“I’m a fan of Steven Spielberg (so) to see him in action was a real treat for me,” he said. “And I got to work with Tony Kushner for a year. I was part of his team, developing the screenplay. And that was really wonderful.”

Monge said to be surrounded by all of the dancers and performers and the level of craftmanship behind the design and costumes was unreal.

“I was surrounded by giants,” he said. “It was very loving and very fun. Obviously because Mr. Spielberg was so in love with this, his joy was just spreading all around that thing. He was so happy. You would see him coming out of a scene and saying “Why didn’t I do do a musical before? This is fun.’ It was so exciting every single day.”

George Street Playhouse’s production of “Baipás” can be seen at the Arthur Laurents Theater in the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center, 11 Livingston Ave., from March 1 to 20. Tickets start at $25. More information is available at georgestreetplayhouse.org.  

Ilana Keller is an award-winning journalist and lifelong New Jersey resident who loves Broadway and really bad puns. She highlights arts advocacy and education, theater fundraisers and more through her column, “Sightlines.” Reach out on Twitter: @ilanakeller; [email protected]

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