You’ve probably never heard of Paola Lázaro, but that will change. Currently playwright in residence at the David Mamet- and William H. Macy-founded Atlantic Theater Company, Lázaro is a spinner of vivid tales possessed of a sharp ear for language and a keen eye for the humane comic detail. Tell Hector I Miss Him, which opened Monday on the Atlantic’s Stage 2 (the main stage was, until recently, home to The Band’s Visit, the best new musical of 2016) stuffs a crowd of people and loosely related plot threads into a tight space. Characters speed through, and stories combust into such glinting shards that the play unfolds with giddy energy, a farce with heart. All that’s missing is the slamming of doors.
And as in most farces, the action is mostly driven by sex — having it, wanting it, fearing it, fooling around with it. Clint Ramos’ set is a stone-walled grotto with entrances at either side, apparently a dry goods store beneath a fort in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The proprietor is Mostro (Juan Carlos Hernández), an earnest, honest man who struggles in vain to keep things calm around him.
Mostro appears to be happily married to Samira (Selenis Leyva, Gloria on Orange Is the New Black), though we can tell things aren’t quite in sync when he orders her to change from the outfits that reveal her many curves. He compounds the insult by having her “confess” in front of other folks what was wrong with the clothes. Samira is getting even in ways that will surprise no one familiar with the rules of farce.
Mostro and Samira provide a safe haven for Toño (Alexander Flores), whose Mami (Lisa Ramirez) is a dissolute, demanding drunk. Toño falls in love with La Gata (Talene Monahon), a damaged girl who prowls and peers with cat-like eyes and doesn’t speak (until she does). Sweeping the floor of the shop is Palito (Sean Carvajal), another fragile soul; he sells drugs for his macho brother Jeison (Victor Almanzar, terrific in Between Riverside and Crazy) and services the very hot but brutally indifferent Tati (Analisa veleZ), for whom poor Palito is a cash machine when he isn’t a sex machine.
Tati’s best friend is Malena (Dascha Polanco, Dayanara Diaz in OITNB), who casts a spell on the budding young lesbian Isis (Yadira Guevara-Prip, recurring on Amazon’s Mad Dogs). She’s sweetly persistent in her pursuit of Malena, who just might be beyond romance.
Emotions run high in scenes that flash past in machine-gun bursts that seem ready-made for television (not meant as a put down, by the way). Lázaro has been blessed with a superb company (including Luis Vega and Flaco Navaja) and, in David Mendizábal, a director who keeps a firm hand on the chaos, establishing an engaging balance between comedy and pathos as these characters work their way under our skin. I’d have happily spent more time with them.