Age: Old enough to know better than to answer this question sincerely 🙂
Hometown: Houston, TX.
What lenses or identities make your perspective as a writer unique?: First-Generation. A daughter. Former organizer.
What was your favorite live performance this year and why?: Self Accusation at Theatre Y- I completely misunderstood the play, but the visuals moved me to my core, and it was essentially theatrical.
What is the purpose of arts criticism?: Most art, in America, particularly theatre is seen as “high culture.” The role of arts criticism should be bold in asserting that there is no such thing as “high” and “low.” There is no art or show that someone should be scared of witnessing for fear of “not getting it.” The point of arts criticism isn’t to “solve” the art form or completely deconstruct the art form so that the reader has no “work” to do. Instead, arts criticism should be a primer for potential art consumers while situating itself firmly in the history of the art form.
Critics should be “historians” or at least familiar with the lineage of the art which they criticize while still keeping it current for those who may not have all that knowledge.
Reviews (Most Recent First)
Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy
As part of the 3rd Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, Teatro Vista presents Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy, co-directed by Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Ricardo Gutiérrez. The Bookspan of Den Theatre is transformed in to a late 50s/early 60s starter home flanked by brown- not white- wooden fences. The visual aesthetic of the set and costuming grounded me in the world of the play. José Manuel Díaz-Soto, the set designer, alongside the costume designer, Sanja Manakoski, succeed in realizing the patterns and color palette of the time period. The long rockabilly skirts and button-down blouses worn by the youthful and on-trend Betty, played by Janyce Caraballo, contrasts starkly with the hip-hugging capris and polo blouses worn by the headstrong eldest sister, Gina (Ayssette Muñoz). Even the mother, Elena’s (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) outfits with her collared suburbia dresses are thoughtful choices meant to highlight the values and ideals of the women of the Morales family.
Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy by Evelina Fernández tells the story of the stalwart housewife with the philandering husband trying to hold her family together for the sake of her children. It is, also, the story of Gina, the eldest daughter, disappointed by her mother who refuses to leave the philandering and abusive husband as she repeatedly declares that she will live a life unlike her mother. This is, also, the story of the youngest daughter Betty who comes of age through finally accepting reality rather than filling her mind with fantasies of her childhood crush, John F. Kennedy. The characters disrupt action to sing standard early 60s pop songs, but it’s not a musical. Though each woman gets her own arc, it is difficult to track the thematic stakes of events especially when all their drama is played out through the men in their lives.
Gina berates Betty and chastises Elena. Betty is implicitly understood as a daddy’s girl, so she doesn’t get any one-on-one time with her mother. It is through talking and bearing their wishes to the men in their lives that Elena, Betty, and Gina reveal their inner thoughts which wouldn’t be a problem if one of the flimsy thematic threads of the play wasn’t one of both independence and intergenerational understanding and respect among women.
As a result of the underwritten relationships among the characters, many actions that should’ve been more emotionally resonant seemed hollow and unearned. Gina’s dream sequences of talking to John F. Kennedy and then Fidel Castro, the projections of early 60s duck and cover drills, and the vintage political speeches through projections served to make the play feel disjointed rather than cohesive. All these artistic choices were meant to put us in the early 60s, but I found myself wanting that time to be directed towards emotionally investing in the characters.
The Brothers Size
Walking into Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre for Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size, directed by Monty Cole, I am struck by the black rubber shreds that swallow the floor of the stage where upon a mound lies a mattress instead of a tomb. Yu Shibagaki’ set instantly transported me into a world I had nothing but curiosity toward, and the subsequent performance in turn satisfied every ounce of intrigue and interest.
McCraney draws on Yoruba mythology and folkloric traditions to tell a story about brothers rooted in the cultural history of a West-African ethnic group. He picks up on one of the most notable relationships within West African cultures which is that dynamic between eldest sibling and those that follow behind. The eldest sibling lays the path for siblings to follow. Ogun Size, played steadily by Manny Buckley, is the eldest son who owns his own car mechanic shop while Oshoosi Size, with a charming performance by Patrick Agada, has recently returned from a stint in jail. How can a business owner and a convict exist within the same family? How can brothers of the same genetic stock experience such drastically different outcomes?
Rather than highlighting their difference, Cole’s production heightens the similarity between the two brothers. In a set that resembles a graveyard more than a workplace, both Ogun and Oshoosi live and work where death permanently looms. Despite death’s presence, Ogun still works and labors. It is how he imposes control and order on his life while Oshoosi floats. It isn’t easy finding work as a formally incarcerated individual. Ogun sees Oshoosi’s unemployment as a lack of discipline rather than a symptom of a criminal justice system that criminalizes long past one serves their time. Ogun, then, takes his responsibility as Oshoosi’s brother to set him straight.
The control that Ogun tries to institute on Oshoosi is so domineering that it resembles the surveillance and control demanded by prison instititutions. The juxtaposition between jail and sibling relationships asks us to think of the ways that in loving our younger siblings we are replicating the systems of surveillance and control created by impersonal and violent institutions that separate families rather than bring them together. When is the love we show our siblings actually a violation of their personal autonomy?
McCraney’s words, bolstered and elevated by Cole’s artistic direction, artistically denounce control, for it is intimacy and vulnerability that must take root for affection and love to grow. No where is the power of such simple undertakings made as legible in the production than in the moments of dreaming and recollection that are beautifully rendered on stage through moving music (Jeffrey Levin), well-designed projections(Rasean Devonte Johnson), and an intriguing set-up where a camera phone on stage is connected to the projector so that we, the audience, can see the action on stage almost as if we’re in a movie.
Though part of the Young Adult series, anybody older should expect to find a production that denies seniority as a prerequisite for wisdom when wisdom is an act of compassion not regulation.