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'Agridulce/Bittersweet' is a tasty concoction

In this multilingual, multimedia mashup, the play's not the thing. Collaboration is.

A dress rehearsal for "Agridulce/Bittersweet," a multilingual mashup where each of the performers has a say.
A dress rehearsal for "Agridulce/Bittersweet," a multilingual mashup where each of the performers has a say.
Courtesy photo
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Show me something new. That’s the heart’s desire of every critic. That wish came true for me at New College. No genie. Just a mirrored yoga studio doubling as rehearsal space. Twelve actors, three directors. “Agridulce/Bittersweet” is the show I saw in rehearsal. It’s new, all right. So new it’s hard to describe.

But I’ll try…

“Agridulce/Bittersweet” is a multilingual, multimedia mashup of song, dance, physical comedy, improv, individual set pieces, full-ensemble productions with a dash of mime. It’s a group show and a collaborative work of art. A grassroots creation that grew out of improvised scenes.

That’s unusual for a show like this.

Improv troupes can trash the script. That’s allowed.

But with rare exceptions, the rest of the American stage is scripted and tightly controlled. On or off Broadway, plays usually have a top-down structure. An auteur at the apex of the pyramid calls the shots. They’ve got something to say. They move performers around like chess pieces to say it. Without changing one word of the script, of course.

“Agridulce” (Spanish for "bittersweet") is a rare exception. There’s no auteur. It’s a democracy. A cast of 12 auteurs — and they’ve all got something say. “Agridulce” gives each of them a voice.

Crazy idea. Who thought of it?

Eliza Ladd
Courtesy photo

Eliza Ladd and Diego Villada, originally. Ladd is a playwright, performer, director, and an instructor and movement coach at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory and Asolo Rep. Villada’s a master of theatrical fight direction and choreography. He teaches his art at New College of Florida, where he’s director of theater, dance and performance studies.

In 2022, Villada and Ladd decided to launch a bilingual show about Sarasota’s Latinx and immigrant communities. They'd create the show in collaboration with talents from those communities. They sent a proposal to the Mellon Foundation. They got the grant.

CreArte Latino Artistic Director Carolina Franco
Courtesy photo

Carolina Franco had already joined the team. She’s the artistic director of CreArte Latino — the area’s nerve center for Latinx theater and culture. Franco had the creative talent, the network and the passion. The grant proposal promised cross-cultural collaboration. Franco could deliver.

“She wasn’t just the top of our list,” says Ladd. “She was the only name on the list.”

I see why when I watch the “Nosy Neighbor” scene.

A Caucasian “Karen”-type character holds up her iPhone. And starts yelling at a Latinx character with no clue why she’s so angry. Or what she’s saying.

“Hey! Miss! ‘Senorita.’ My phone. This phone? ‘La telefona.’ You walked in the room … then it’s suddenly not working. Can you tell me why? I think that’s really suspicious. Don’t take that personally. I don’t see color. I have a lot of Mexican friends.”

“Good,” says Villada. “Now shout, like that’ll make her understand you.”

The actor does.

Old joke. But still hilarious.

Dialogue gets refined. Movement, too.

The “Faucet” scene is a plumbing emergency worthy of The Three Stooges. (I say “faucet.” You say “grifo.”) The bilingual actors initially run around like headless chickens. They end up working together.

Ladd nods. She likes it. But: “Don’t make it seem forced, … but try to wind up in the same place. At the end of the scene, … everybody look right. Try to show the same profile.”

They actors do as suggested. Villada likes what they do. But: “That’s good. But bring more flavor, more color. And open it up!”

One actor doesn’t get it.

“Open it up? What do you mean?”

Villada mimes body language. He turns his back to the implied audience. Spins back around, but with his arms folded, eyes averted. Then drops his guard. Shows his face. Looks the audience in the eye.

The actor gets it. Smiles.

So does the director.

And so it goes until the end. A few more rehearsals will follow. The creator/performers will refine, tweak, experiment and play around. They’ll wind up with a cool show. But with “Agridulce,” the play’s not the thing. The collaboration is.

The show will open with only four performances. But they’ll serve as a template for future collaborations. Maybe riffs on the existing script? Maybe new territory?

We’ll see.

After the rehearsal, I touch base with the directors. Live and in person.

Franco goes to the heart of the matter.

“Tonight’s rehearsal — it may look totally spontaneous. But there’s really so much planning behind it. We first had to develop a curriculum. At CreArte Latino, we offered five master classes in theater. New College had a similar curriculum. Every step of the way, we all worked together. And we did it in Spanish and English! ‘Agridulce’ is about breaking down the language barrier. In real life, that’s what we had to do to make this show happen.”

Ah-ha. Now I get it.

To steal a phrase from Samuel Beckett, “Agridulce” isn’t about something. It is the thing itself.

But there’s one thing I still don’t get …

The title.


Why “Bittersweet” ..? What are they talking about?

“Life,” says Ladd. “Life includes the positives, the hardships, the opportunities and the losses. Life is bittersweet, whatever language you speak. It’s a universal experience we all share. That’s a basis for empathy — for overcoming the walls of language and culture dividing us. If we know that, we can demolish those walls and come together.”



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

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