T2 brings murder, mayhem, mystery — and a larger-than-life mom — to stage in “Laughs in Spanish”

T2 brings murder, mayhem, mystery — and a larger-than-life mom — to stage in “Laughs in Spanish”

It takes a big wig to play a big star.

To play Colombian movie and television star Stella in “Laughs in Spanish,” actress Tonie Knight relies on her wig, “Estrella,” star in Spanish, to get in character.

“People who don’t know me think it’s my hair,” she says, but once it’s on, she becomes Stella.

“I’m very psyched up. … We all have different little tricks, but for me, that’s the click,” says the actress.

Her real life has been a little different from Stella’s, the matriarch of “Laughs in Spanish” who has come to Miami to help her daughter during a crisis — her art gallery is an active crime scene during the biggest art fair of the year.

“Some of the tension in the play comes about because of the choices that she made when her daughter was younger,” Knight says of the flamboyant Stella in the production on stage through May 5 at TheatreSquared in Fayetteville.

“I relate on the level of being a mother and a creative person just trying to find where you fit in in a culture where sometimes you just really do have to carve your own path,” Knight says.

Knight began acting professionally in her 20s, after majoring in performance studies at the University of Texas in Austin, where she still lives. Unlike her character in the play, who kept working while raising children, Knight says that she took a “30 year break to raise five kids.”

She’s been getting back to acting over the last couple of years and says that she’s enjoying the stage even more.

“I’m someone who’s got a lifetime of experience to help me create characters, and it’s sort of a beautiful third act in my life right now,” she adds.

Since February of this year, she’s played Stella in the Stages Houston production of “Laughs in Spanish,” which is now on stage at T2.

“It’s like a touring show, but it’s also not a touring show,” says director Rebecca Rivas, who directed the show on a larger stage in Houston. Locally “Laughs in Spanish” has moved into a smaller space, turning Spring Theater into more of a pink box than a black box theater.

Rivas says that the audience can really enjoy being closer to the actors.

“There’s a lot of just really heartwarming, heartfelt moments in this show that I think the audience is really going to benefit from being just a few feet away from these fabulous actors and and seeing these stories as opposed to being in a larger house,” says Rivas.

Knight says that the change in physical space allows the actors to find ways to interact with one another and adds a more intimate feel to the play itself.

“It’s so fun to do a hard reset on something you already know. And then the reboot is in a whole new place,” Knight adds.

Rivas’s experience with “Laughs in Spanish,” has been all about imagining the story and moving it to another space— and her life followed suit. Earlier this year, Rivas, her husband and their 18-month-old relocated to Houston, so that Rivas could direct the show at Stages Houston.

“It was a great process, but it also comes with a lot of challenges. You’re building a show and figuring out a show that’s going to eventually live in two different theaters,” says Rivas, who is the senior artistic associate and program director of the LatinX Theatre Project at T2. “Even though there might be similarities, no two theaters are going to be alike.”

She already had some feelings about the play before staging it in Houston. She first read the play when fresh off maternity leave and still in the early throes of motherhood.

“I do love how the play is able to really lift up these stories of how women — particularly in the arts — how they navigate their fields and how they navigate motherhood and those relationships when someone is a mother. It really does that so beautifully,” she says.



‘Laughs In Spanish’

WHEN — 2 p.m Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 2 & 7:30 p.m. Saturday, through May 5

WHERE — TheatreSquared in Fayetteville

COST — $20-$64

INFO — theatre2.org

FYI — LatinX Theatre Project presents “Holy Waters,” a journey with the goddess Lluvia through the four seasons with original storytelling, poetry and music, at 7 p.m. April 12; 2 & 7 p.m. April 13; and 2 p.m. April 14 at The Medium in Springdale. Tickets are $8 at eventbrite.com.

Categories: Theater