Metro Weekly

Spotlight: Exquisite Agony by Nilo Cruz at GALA Hispanic Theatre

Pulitzer-winning playwright Nilo Cruz takes the reins to direct GALA's production of his drama "Exquisite Agony"

nilo cruz, gala, exquisite agony
Nilo Cruz: Exquisite Agony — Photo: M. Richard Tousignant

Even the most celebrated playwrights aren’t always afforded the opportunity to direct their own work. So Nilo Cruz, a 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winner for his drama Anna in the Tropics, is relishing the chance to apply his directorial vision to GALA Hispanic Theatre’s new production of his magical realist romance Exquisite Agony (Exquisita Agonía).

“I have been directing a lot of my work, and my work has been performed at GALA Theatre a couple of times,” Cruz says, noting the company’s productions of the Cuban immigrant drama Anna and the Spain-set love story, Beauty of the Father. “I feel like it’s a theater that trusts me as a playwright, and of course now as a director. They’ve given me carte blanche and have left me alone…to explore the text with these actors, and to explore it as well with the designers.”

Among the cast joining Cruz on the Exquisite exploration is GALA Hispanic Theatre veteran Luz Nicolas, starring as opera singer Millie Marcel, a widow who fixates on the young transplant recipient now living with her dead husband’s heart.

Nicolas originated the role in the production of Exquisite Agony that premiered earlier this year Off-Broadway, and reprises Millie for this staging paired with Joel Hernandez Lara as Amer, the object of Millie’s obsession and desire.

Exquisite Agony: Joel Lara and Jose Antonio Gonzalez — Photo: Rob Klug

“I think that my characters are constantly projecting desires,” says Cruz. “They’re projecting past relationships onto new relationships, onto new lovers. I think it’s part of being human. We sometimes want to stay in territory that we know instead of really starting with a tabula rasa. Sometimes we cling to past relationships, to past behaviors, to past passions that we’ve had, past histories. And we project them onto new people that come into our lives and vice versa. I think it’s human nature to do that for some reason.”

Exquisita Agonía (Exquisite Agony) opens Feb. 6 at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. Through March 1. Performances are in Spanish with English surtitles. Tickets are $20 to $55. Call 202-234-7174 or visit

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