Presented by Central Square Theater
Written by Benjamin Benne
Directed by Elena Velasco
Choreography by Angie Jepson
Dialect Coaching by Cristhian Mancinas-García
Community Connectivity Dramaturgy by Zowie Rico
Featuring Karina Beleno Carney (she/ella) and Luz Lopez (she/her)
February 23 to March 26, 2023
Central Square Theater
450 Massachusetts Avenue
75 minutes with no intermission
Critique by Kitty Drexel
Cambridge, MA — The Oxford English Dictionary says the American Dream is “the ideal that every citizen of the United States should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.” Benjamin Benne’s Alma at Central Square Theater is the story of a family that comes to accept that some American dreams are only available to wealthy, white, and documented dreamers.
Benne tells a story more fully in 75 minutes than many playwrights do in 150 minutes. He introduces characters, establishes motivations and character arcs, and creates multiple sources of dramatic tension. Then, he shows us how it all goes down which gives his actors plenty to do on stage.
Alma (vivacious and warm Karina Beleno Carney) and Angel (energetic and kinesthetic Luz Lopez) are having a normal mother-daughter spat when the television turns itself on and won’t turn off again. Angel should be studying for the SATs but has been partying with friends. Alma should be studying for her citizenship test.
Tensions are high in La Puente, California. The 2016 election results are in; Trump lost the popular vote, but the electoral college will surely award Trump the Presidency. Alma and Angel are scared of how their lives will change – if they’ll stay together or if the new administration will tear their family apart. The women project their fears into their arguments that don’t matter. It’s through petty bickering that Alma and Angel come to reveal huge secrets that will affect the rest of their lives.
A Google search of “children in cages at Mexican border” brings up articles from 2022. A Google search for “immigration reform” provides results from as early as this morning. Everyone has an opinion. These articles don’t confront a personal story of immigration and undocumented status like Alma does. Articles tell us about a journalist’s experience. Alma tells us a family’s story firsthand.
Director Elena Velasco, Carney, and Lopez fostered a loving family. Even amidst the female roars and flying chanclas, it is obvious that Alma and Angel have a triumphant love for each other. The louder the scream, the bigger the love.
The chancla fight choreography by Angie Jepson was a perfect balance of comedy and drama. Every teen thinks they are free from physical retribution but secretly fears being taken to task. This fight expressed Alma’s frustration with Angel and Angel’s corresponding confusion.
Scenic designer Erik D Diaz creates a loving family environment with a few devotional candles, a worn couch, and an inspirational sign over a hallway door. Alma’s home has the right amount of wear that looks comfortable and loved over years. It looks like this family’s personal sanctuary. It makes the drama that unfolds in Alma’s living room even more intense knowing that this home may never feel so safe again.
Central Square Theater engages its audience with some excellent dramaturgy. The community connectivity dramaturgy work committed by Zowie Rico hits each attendee as they enter the lobby. We are invited to learn more about and support organizations working with local immigrant communities. We can share what Home means to us. Central Square even offers us resources should we want to know more for personal reasons.
That’s just the theater’s lobby! Central Square Theater’s website has interviews with scenic designer Erik D. Diaz and playwright Benjamin Benne. Educators and the educational adjacent may be interested in the Alma slides detailing the United States’ involvement in destabilizing South America and its influence and impact on the lives of migrant communities. The Central Conversations page has a schedule of events and discussions in and around the subjects discussed in Alma. There’s something for everyone.
Alma Central Figures – Interview with Scenic Designer Erik D. Diaz from Central Square Theater on Vimeo.
This critique is late because I moved from my home of nine years to a new home on March 1. My wee family packed all of our things into boxes and suitcases for five weeks. In one day, we moved into a new building ripe with new dreams and unlimited potential. Our survival-jobs gave us an additional day to get back to “normal” and return to work.
Moving is terrifying! The cat is still hiding under the bed. I wish I could join her.
For nine years, I knew what the boundaries and the limits were. Now, we must rediscover what calm and security look and feel like in this new space. We have it easy compared to Alma and Angel.
Home is finding a place where you are with your people, you belong, and you feel safe together, protected, and loved. There’s enough sunlight and enough space and enough warmth. If you’re lucky, you feel at peace.
People come to the US with their families to find refuge for many reasons. Humans will do anything for the people we love: cross a barren desert, traverse the open ocean, wage biblical war, attempt open-heart surgery without training, anything. If anything is universal, that is.
The white North American politicians who gatekeep the borders of the US like to pretend they wouldn’t do the exact same things if their roles were reversed with the refugees seeking asylum at the Mexican or Canadian borders. When you see Alma, and you should, please consider your family and the choices you would make under impossible circumstances.
Alma is in Spanish and English with no English translations. People who aren’t fluent in Spanish should have compassion for non-fluent Spanish speakers living in the US.
And now, some chancla levity.
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