Friday, March 15, 2019

Review of Teatro Vista's The Abuelas

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Abuelas. It was by Stephanie Alison Walker and it was directed by Ricardo GutiƩrrez. It was about a woman named Gabriela (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) who was a cellist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She was married to a man named Marty (Nate Santana) and they have a new baby. Her mother Soledad (Katie Barberi) is in the states visiting from Argentina to look after the child since the disappearance of their nanny. And on her birthday Soledad invited her friend Cesar (Esteban Schemberg), whom she met at church, over for dinner, but Cesar does not come alone. He brings his friend Carolina (Alba Guerra) who has a great admiration for Gabriela. Many major discoveries about Gabriela's past come to light. This is a sequel to The Madres, which was produced in Teatro Vista's last season and which was moving and well-performed. The Abuelas is about trauma, heritage, and unconditional love. This show was well-made stylistically, moving, and performed beautifully.

Motherhood is a very prominent theme in this play. All of the mother characters have very different ways of going about it. For example, Soledad tries very hard to micromanage her daughter because she believes that she knows what’s best, but her own daughter, Gabriela, parents very freely--possibly because of the way that she grew up. As the play progresses, Gabriela starts to notice that she doesn’t want to be this prodigy that her mother sculpted; she wants to find herself and stop lying to herself. This storyline was very impactful and it translated into this wall of tension that added a lot to the party scene because it kept coming up and down. They wanted to click and work well together, and sometimes they did, but very quickly they were at each other's throats. The possible reason for that comes to light later in the play, but I found the mother-daughter relationship to be one of the most enthralling relationships in the play even before I knew the reason.

The ghost story in the play at first seemed very out of place. At first it was like a loose piece of string holding the two plays--The Abuelas and The Madres--together, but the revelation of who certain characters really were added a lot. The interactions with the ghost became more and more effective and emotional until it came to this great conclusion where the wall between the two worlds broke down and we got to see real interactions. Those interactions may not have really happened, but they needed to happen for the play and for Gabriela. This was emphasized by the startlingly subtle set which looked like a prison as well as Gabriela's home.

The arguments were dealt with very well in this show. They were not repetitive and each time a character would make a new discovery. The moments that were most effective for me were those between Gabriela and her husband Marty because of the moments where it would get so passionate that things would slip out. They use this method a lot in plays and sometimes it seems inorganic, but the actors here were so strong that their relationships, the argument, and their technique seemed very natural. The arguments had a very nice staggered build to them. They don't go from zero to a hundred; they build gradually up and shrink down in a believable way.

People who would like this show are people who like walls of tension, familial ghost stories, and micromanaging mothers. I think this is a very effective show. It has beautiful performances, a compelling script, and strong character relationships. Even though the story is about finding yourself, it was obvious they spent a lot of time developing the relationships between the characters. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I really liked it.

Photos: Joel Maisonet

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