San Diego Actor · Writer · Creator
Carla Navarro, Christopher Cruz. Photos by Karli Cadel Photography

Theater Review: EL HURACÁN (Cygnet in San Diego)


Perhaps the two most chilling words that can be uttered in a family are “Alzheimer’s” and “dementia.”  Physical pain, as horrible as it may be, is something we can relate to and try to bear together, but slowly losing one’s memories, faculties, and function is hell and heartbreaking for both the person going through it their caretakers. Nancy Reagan called it, “the longest goodbye.”

Seventy-something Valeria — aka Abuela (Amalia Alarcón Morris) — is having a progressive, persistent impairment of both memory and intellectual capacity. Granddaughter Miranda (Sandra Ruiz) begrudgingly comes home to Miami from Massachusetts to aid her mother Ximena (Catalina Maynard) as Hurricane Andrew approaches. It is clear that the relationship between the exhausted, controlling Ximena and her independent daughter Miranda is strained to the breaking point. Ximena frequently takes potshots at her daughter; Miranda lashes back at Ximena, claiming that she can’t win — she gets blamed for staying away, but then gets incessant complaints when she comes home.

As Miranda and Ximena pack up Abuela’s things, Valeria converses with her then-young sister, Alicia (Carla Navarro), who beckons Abuela to join her in the ocean; repeatedly falls in love with Ximena’s father Alonso (Manny Fernandes); and becomes a successful magician in Cuba. Many sides of Abuela are revealed that neither daughter nor granddaughter fully know, as they wonder to whom Abuela is speaking. Is her past fading more every day because she never shared about her life? Meanwhile, Miranda has the hots for a local hunky handyman Fernando (Christopher Cruz); they drink and misbehave during the storm, causing even more problems.

Charise Castro Smith’s story is told in one 95 minute act, yet there are a clearly two acts: around the middle of the show, we jump 25 years into the future and get to see the implications that past choices had on their current happiness, growth, and struggles. The actresses actually change into their older selves onstage while talking, so director Daniel Jáquez allows us to be a little confused by the transition that leads to a big “A-ha!” moment as we come to understand the time change.

In telling a story about four generations of Hispanic women — and the three hurricanes that shapes their choices — Smith attempts to be true in regards to Abuela’s lack of English skills, so there will be times when Spanish is spoken that only Spanish-speaking audience members will understand what others follow from context. Abuela speaks in pure Spanish for several minutes while husband Alonso translates for us a few words behind, much like when the news translates international video. Thankfully, for the most part, Abuela’s delusions are performed in English and we assume that they are in Spanish in her head.

Some of the strongest work is by Ms. Maynard as a mother who tries so hard to be a soldier of strength while her ammunition is getting exhausted, and her proud, stubborn armor is wearing thin.

Between the time leaps, we question just what is memory vs. fantasy vs. wishful thinking for Abuela. The plot at times ranges from a bit vague to, at best, open to interpretation. A cluster of attendees, including myself, remained on the front patio at Cygnet Theatre for a while, trying to piece all of it together and, eventually, deciding that perhaps we’re not supposed to know some things for sure. The feeling is a bit unsettling, but perhaps that’s just what Ms. Smith and Mr. Jáquez want; after all, the focal subject is mental unclarity.

Source: Stage and Cinema
By Milo Shapiro

Latest Post