Presented by Fresh Ink Theatre
By Cecelia Raker
Directed by Stephanie LeBolt
Music Composition by Geraldine Barney
May 5-20, 2017
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
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Review by Travis Manni
(Boston, MA) Mythologies can become difficult to trace and define as stories change from generation to generation. In a Fresh Ink Theatre premier production, playwright Cecelia Raker attempts to give life to the myth of a mourning mother in the multi-genre, multicultural play La Llorona.
In urban Mexican and Latinx legends, a woman, La Llorona (Maria Hendricks), drowned her two children in a river to save them from life’s griefs and then killed herself. In the afterlife, she is cast away from the gates of heaven, forced to roam the shores of the river. Current day high school sophomores Maria (Alessandra Esparza Wichtel), Molly (Chantie Parrilla), and Rachel (Katie Grindeland) research La Llorona’s story for a school project and quickly become entangled in the myth, experiencing her supernatural presence. But the intentions of the ghost are hard to grasp, and the group can’t tell if the woman is haunting or helping them.
La Llorona’s feminism is powerful without feeling forced or overworked. Using themes of motherhood, pregnancy, and sexuality all helped incorporate feminist thoughts but didn’t exhaust the audience.
Maria Hendricks as La Llorona is an amalgam of scary and heart wrenching as the lamenting mother. Moving about the stage as both temptress and murderess, she pulls the audience in to instill fear and intrigue, showing that there is far more to the ghost of a weeping woman than meets the eye. The younger talent in La Llorona is also well beyond its years. As the high school sophomores, all three actors pulled their weight to portray young women struggling with the angst and frustrations of adolescence in a way that felt familiar and real.
Having live music play during the show was rather gripping as well and further rooted the show in folklore. Geraldine Barney, who both composed and performs the music live, plucked the strings of her guitar (and used other percussive instruments) to help breathe life into the multicultural show. She manages to drive the narrative through music and encapsulate the show’s cultural spectrum, drawing heavily from Native American music to tell an ancient myth that feels fresh for the modern world.
Along with its blending of cultures, La Llorona is a melting pot of genres, including drama, horror, comedy, and folktale. There is a satisfying balance of all aspects, creating a story that is enjoyable for any type of audience.
The couple of issues that La Llorona suffers from, while distracting, are easily fixable. The Mom character, played wonderfully and with impeccable timing by Tess Degen, is overworked and hard to swallow. There wasn’t a single aspect of her that represented any type of real woman, and though the character was used for comedy and to create a foil to an ideal mothering woman, she was a severe caricature that pulled focus. More glaring of an issue is the play’s conclusion. Any questions that the audience has are answered and the story comes full circle, wrapping up in a way that feels too nice and neat. While it can be tempting to have a show end in this type of fulfilling manner, the most engaging theatrical experiences bring the audience to the edge of a cliff and leave room for some interpretation. La Llorona’s ending is so happily-ever-after that it is disappointing; I’d rather be thrown off the cliff than told what’s at the bottom.
Though it contains a couple of minor hiccups, when La Llorona takes flight it soars beautifully. Raker does a nice job weaving urban myth with a modern narrative that is captivating to watch unfold.
La Llorona runs for 1 hour, 50 minutes with one intermission and includes text in English, Spanish, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Nahuatl. To purchase tickets, click here.
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