Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
May 8, 2015
All teenagers feel like they don’t belong. It’s part of the job description. Perhaps their concern is weight or zits, under- or over-development. In the case of Cari Gonzalez, it’s a Mexican accent.
She was born in the U.S., but after her mother died, her father whisked her away to Mexico. Now she’s back in Ohio, about to turn 15, and all she wants is for her accent to go away, so she doesn’t “stick out like a sore thumb.”
Cari’s a little punky, with strategically torn jeans and magenta highlights. Her boyfriend is a Goth rocker with spiky hair, eyeliner and black nail polish. That doesn’t sit too well with her stern but loving father. Cari also gets regular visits from the ghost of her mother, who gives her help with American diction, and sex, life and relationship advice, presented as sequential, numerical lessons.
Slipping in and out of the action is the mother’s twin sister, who abandoned Cari years ago.
Anger, resentment, guilt and secrets abound, but this is far from a seriously dysfunctional family. The play’s message is “Accept yourself, forgive, and move on,” which has the whiff of an after-school TV movie.
“Lesson 443,” by Colombian-born, New York-based Tatiana Suarez-Pico, is getting a strong world premiere production at Moxie Theatre, anchored by two terrific teen performers, age 16 and 17: adorable, totally natural Daniela Millan and sweet, solid Anton Mabey. Cari’s mom and dad are interesting characters, but her aunt is less fleshed out, and not as smartly dressed as described. Wendy Waddell plays the twins with conviction. Paul Araujo brings heart and poetry to the tormented father who just wants to make things right for his little girl. Jennifer Eve Thorn’s direction is robust, though the lopsided set doesn’t match the tone of the piece.
This intriguing new play features some potent scenes, credible dialogue and a killer central character. But it could use more depth and nuance. Still, watching these two talented young artists is a rewarding lesson in itself.
“Lesson 443 ” runs through May 24 at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.
©2015 PAT LAUNER