Death is Not A Fight You Win: MALA

Presented by ArtsEmerson
Written and performed by Melinda Lopez
Directed by David Dower
Dramaturgy by P. Carl

Oct 27 – Nov. 20, 2016
Audio Described Performance: SAT, NOV 12 @ 2PM
American Sign Language Performance: SAT, NOV 19 @ 2PM
Emerson/Paramount Center
Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre
Boston, MA
ArtsEmerson on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) Forgiveness is a conscious act of releasing pain. To forgive oneself is to choose to unburden purposeful self-torment. It’s one of the hardest gifts to give ourselves and the most necessary. Mala is not a show about a woman who has forgiven herself for the role she played in her parents deaths. It is about a woman so torn up that she must relive her role in them with each performance.

Melinda Lopez has written, performed (and no doubt co-produced) Mala*, a bitterly empathetic memoir capturing the deaths of her parents. Lopez’s anecdotes and character retrospectives embrace the helplessness humanity plunges into when our guardians die.  She’s morbidly funny and satisfyingly frank about the times when our bodies fail us.  The show is structured and self-aware. The script bleeds with Lopez’s terror and heartbreak. It’s an excellent production but I wouldn’t call it entertaining. 

I did not enjoy watching Lopez relive her parents’ deaths over and over again.  I did not want to see her blame herself in any way for the conclusions of her parents’ lives. She doesn’t say she does, not really. But one doesn’t rehash the what ifs and the whys without considering it.  Yet, Lopez’s calm demeanor, and warm facade retelling this story is a testament to her abilities. She’s been performing since October 27 and, while she looks stressed, she hasn’t killed herself yet.  

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to applaud the sound designers of this project. The work is so subtle, so inherent to the performance of this piece it is as if the sounds were coming from Lopez rather than a human in the booth. It’s the kind of work that heightens the audience’s experience on an unconscious level. Lopez’s work is excellent but the sound design and, occasionally the project design, takes the production to the next level.

Death is one of the last taboo** social experiences western society has left. We’ll talk about sex and babies until the moon falls from the sky but death remains unshared. It’s as if ignoring it will make it go away. We are forced to bear it mostly alone. That can’t be healthy. Perhaps Lopez has the right idea. Let’s laugh, cry and rage over death together instead.   

“The Guest House”
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)


* Mala: To be sullied/broken on a soul level.  Mala describes not bad behavior but a sign of inherent corruption.

**Certain religious sects notwithstanding.

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