Lío Written by Ian Robles


Written by Ian Robles

Directed by Mario Colón

Jorge Sánchez Díaz

Bryan J. Cortés

Karina Curet

Presented by Teatro Círculo

64 East 4th Street, Manhattan, NYC

March 15-31, 2024

8:00 PM

Presented in Spanish and English with English supertitles


The opening of Puerto Rican playwright Ian Robles’s Lío, making its world premiere as part of bilingual theater company Teatro Círculo’s 30th anniversary season, finds its title character laying prone with a long rope, which it transpires is connected to a fishing net, tied around his wrist. This opening image suggests a man in bondage as much as it does a fisherman, and nets, which dominate the set design, continue as a metaphor through this sharp, entrancing, sometimes dreamlike critique of imperialism, which sees Teatro Círculo back at its newly renovated home on East 4th Street. But first, Lío, whose name could be translated as trouble or mess, drags up something from the sea that portends seismic changes both for him and for his island nation.

The year is 1898 when we meet the impoverished Lío (Jorge Sánchez Díaz) and he in turn meets an American marine named Chris (Bryan J. Cortés), who has arrived in Puerto Rico as part of America’s campaign against Spain but has become separated from his squad. Despite their difficulties in communicating (Lío does not speak English, and Chris knows about the number and type of Spanish words that one might expect any randomly selected white American to know), Chris takes a liking to Lío and ensures that their paths cross again. Lío’s mother, Tere (Karina Curet), is resistant to this development, to put it mildly, but Chris, along with what he represents, isn’t going anywhere. The Spanish-American War may be ending, but the American presence in Puerto Rico is far from over, and the play will take us through more of this history, artfully using only these three characters to open onto a much larger scope.

The production benefits from excellent sound design, from ambient sounds of waves and gunshots and artillery to the intrusion at one point of garishly patriotic American music. The boat prow upon which we first see Lío, cleverly used to stand in at other times for anything from a table to a car, sits atop a painted floor that suggests the entirety of the island, helping to emphasize the wider import of scenes such as those in which Lío and Tere are made to parrot English sentences or a memorably phantasmagorical sequence in which the pair literally internalize imperialism. Cortés as the protean Chris and Curet as the ailing but principled Tere are both impressive, while Sánchez Díaz delivers a marvelous performance as Lío, enhanced by an expressive, emotive physicality. Lío brings us a sometimes funny, always atmospheric encounter with the beginnings of an imperialistic entanglement that remains unresolved to this day.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards