Hometown: Hyde Park, Chicago
What lenses or identities make your perspective as a writer unique?: Female, Chinese in America, a Shakespeare nerd and Chinese opera scholar, an artist who believes in the power of translation and adaptation.
What was your favorite live performance this year and why?: It is so hard to pick a favorite performance, so I will share my favorite live performance experience this year. I went to see Indecent at Victory Gardens, on the day when the anti-semitic Pittsburgh synago
What is the purpose of arts criticism?: Arts criticism is the way by which works of artists can resonate with different meanings and voices. Through writing, ephemeral performances acquire another life beyond time and space. Criticism, though often defined as an art of evaluating, is also an art of finding common grounds. It should aim to make different points of views available to the artists and the arts more accessible to everyone.
Reviews (Most Recent First)
Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy
Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam War, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Amidst the political turbulence of early 1960s, Evelina Fernandez’s Hope: Part II of A Mexican Trilogy finds its anchor at a Mexican American household, where a mother, with the support of her four children, fights her own war for independence from patriarchal authority. Under the co-direction of Richard Gutierrez and Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Teatro Vista’s production of Hope highlights the hidden desires and fears in an age of sexual and political revolution. Here, history is an inventory list: events, pop songs, and video footages.
Hope tells a story about evolution and revolution: how do we breakaway from the past, a family of origin that confines our understanding of the world? For the four children of Morales, it is the constant absence of their unfaithful and angry father. The eldest sister Gina (Ayssette Muñoz) poses herself as a substitute father figure who is equally foul-mouthed and bad-tempered, while the other sister Betty (Janyce Caraballo) turns to fantasy conversations with Mr. President Kennedy for comfort. The two younger brothers, Johnny and Bobby (Nick Mayes and Joaquin Rodarte), drift aloose. Their father was a victim of a broken marriage: his mother ran away with a man and never came back. The escaped senior continues to haunt the house, looming over for generations.
The ending is almost a cliché, but good-natured and well-earned. Against her husband’s will, Elena enters the workforce and chooses to be a single mother. The story consummates with the family leaving for San Francisco for a new start: the mother runs away with her children, not with any man.
A talented cast skillfully showcased the complexity and vulnerability of each character. Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel carries Elena’s resilience inside a decidedly muted appearance, as she moves with brevity and clarity. Caraballo lifts forth a marvelous voice timbre, putting forth a charismatic and fanciful Betty. Muñoz smoothly transforms as Gina grows from a tempestuous teenager to a new mother, escalating time and plot. They live in their characters with body and soul, emitting bright and crispy voices to radiate from the ground.
But the virtuoso actors cannot save the awkward placement of songs throughout. Popular sound of 60s’ Rock ’n Roll such as “Love Hurts” and “Mr. Sandman”, though performed beautifully in short verses, are only jingles that bridge the transitions between scenes. Music do not propel actions. Music do not reveal emotions. All is left to catchy melodies that repeat once and again. When incidental songs cannot cover a change of time and space, historical clips take over. Stamped into a two-dimensional screen, a turbulent era is diminished to a backdrop that does not participate in storytelling.
Hope is a heartwarming story wrapped up in a hollow framework. It is neither a musical nor a multimedia theater, but a play intruded by period songs and videos.
The Brothers Size
The story takes place at a car shop, where Ogun and Oshoosi Size work a labor of Sisyphus in heat and dirt. The scenic design by Yu Shibagaki is beautifully raw, stern but vulnerable. Entering the theater, the architectural wall of the theater comes directly into sight. There is no backdrop, nor wing curtains. Light booms and protuberant pipes along the wall call out the nakedness of the stage. On the ground, a vast ocean of shredded tires dresses the entire stage, emitting a tint of cold rubber smell.
Director Monty Cole, in collaboration with movement consultant Breon Arzell, choreographs an elegant but potent opening sequence, where the forgotten ones propel the action. Under a dim light, on an empty stage, a trap door is lift open by hands. The three protagonists climb up from the underground. In the darkness, they raise two work lights high up and then kneel down to plug in power, appreciating such ordinary objects with extraordinary awe. Here, an illuminated space for stories is not taken for granted. It is hard physical work, and requires acknowledgement.
At the core, it is McCraney’s rich characters and imaginative language that give life to this compelling and titillating drama. Drawing from Yoruban cosmology, McCraney crafts a deeply sympathetic older-younger brother duo: Ogun, who is named after the deity of iron working, and Oshoosi, who is the divine hunter embodying the human struggle for survival. The two brothers take on very different paths. Ogun is a firm and hard-working auto mechanic, while his younger brother Oshoosi is a wandering soul, who craves for a car that could take him onto journeys around the world. Since his release from the prison, the carefree Oshoosi suffers from the sternness of his brother. But Ogun cares deeply about his little brother. His rigorousness is his language of love, appeasing his own guilt for not being a better role model.
Through the colloquial and imaginative language of McCraney’s, the brothers’ mutual reliance on each other and shared remembrance of the past swiftly unfolds, taking us on a rollercoaster into the characters’ hearts. At times, the actors articulate the stage directions directly to the audience–a genius invention of McCraney where actors double as commentators. At the very end, Oshoosi announces his own exit, leaving Ogun alone on the stage. “Ogun Size sees it, how can he not, and is left alone in the early morning mist. End of play.” Ogun speaks, as a drop of tear floats down his face. The ineffable emotions suddenly become palpable through words. There, the invisible takes shape, and calls for our attention.