KPBS AIRDATE: September 27, 2002
There’s a striking similarity between “Adoration of the Old Woman,” the new Jose Rivera play at the La Jolla Playhouse, and “The Mummified Deer,” by Luis Valdez, which premiered two years ago at the San Diego Rep. Both plays, steeped in family history, center on feisty, aging matriarchs who spend much of their onstage time in bed. Both women are visited by an assimilated granddaughter and haunted by ghosts as well as the past and future of their people — Puerto Ricans in one case, Mexicans in the other. In both plays, it’s a long-held secret about a baby that ultimately brings relief and release. There’s more than a little magical realism in both, and a lot of regional history and politics. In “Adoration,” the preaching is a bit strident. Two young Puerto Rican men argue didactically about the political options of the island — independence or statehood.
The play is set in the near future, when a deciding vote is about to be cast. The men are neighbors and sometime caretakers of Do Ô a Belen, a 100 year-old defender of freedom who, like the playwright’s long-lost great-aunt, is sharing her bed with a ghost who haunts and taunts her. Adoracion, whose name makes a double entendre of the play’s title, was the mistress of Belen’s dead husband. Into this maelstrom steps Vanessa, a spoiled New Jersey college kid with an attitude — and no knowledge of Spanish or Puerto Rican politics. Everyone here has a dream, and most are forced to face a harsh reality. The outcome is fairly predictable, but there are many delights along the way.
Rivera is a wonderful writer; his dialogue is crisp and genuine, chock-full of humor and profanity. His characters are charmingly multi-dimensional. And he has a great deal on his mind: Regaining culture and language, the subjugation of women in Latin countries, the precipitants and price of activism, acquiescence, adultery, secrecy and forgiveness. These are fascinating issues, but in the play, they’re overshadowed by agit-prop. Theatre is best when it informs and inspires, entertains and agitates. “Adoration” does all these, but not yet in quite the right proportions. Still, it’s a captivating new work, beautifully designed, directed and acted at La Jolla Playhouse. Ivonne Coll is mesmerizing as Belen, Tamara Mello is adorable and energetic as young Vanessa, Marisol Padilla Sanchez makes a beautiful, haunting ghost, and as those oh-so-political guys, Gary Perez and John Ortiz are cute, though they look too old and geeky for funky, hip Vanessa. Director Jo Bonney keeps them moving gracefully through Neil Patel’s superbly simple, suggestive set. If the tropics entice you and political discourse turns you on, you’ll find steamy drama at the La Jolla Playhouse.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS news.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.