by Margret Echeverria
Full disclosure: I knew Hope Salas in another lifetime nearly twenty years ago. We lived in the same building in Hartford, Connecticut and then moved to New York City within a couple years of one another in the mid-‘90’s – she to do an MFA at Columbia University in Acting; I to pursue an acting career. We were in love with and feared Anne Bogart, we told each other dark secrets, we sought out wild experience, we saved each other’s lives, we were both of us extraordinary, fierce, independent and fearless women. We were tight. But then we had a stupid quarrel in the Spring before that bastard bombed our adopted city – and I, being the younger and stupider, was too ashamed to respond when she shortly thereafter reached out. So, last night, I grew up a little and went to see HOPE, a one-woman show created by Salas and directed by Erika Latta because I suspected it would be clever and also because I wanted to bury that balsawood hatchet.
Spectators are treated to the set before the show begins. It looks like a sterile examination room with solid walls, a Purell dispenser, a medical waste can, industrial wipes – also a plant, bathtub and a microwave. Then, the lights go out and a low base tone fills the room and vibrates our seats — Composer Yiannis Christofides is letting us know this is going to be intense. We see a slender, tall figure in a gown enter in the dark and the spot comes up. Salas is contained in a very narrow body, but she is a powerful force on the stage even as her back is turned to us. She has complete Martha Graham-like control over every muscle of her constitution and she is talking about her mother whose flesh was abundant, saturated with stored trauma and whose most essential muscle – her sixty-three year old heart – surrendered control to the burden of secrets and pain taking in the retreat the life of the Salas matriarch in 2007. Latta maximizes this innate skill of Salas’ magnificent presence and control with beautiful choreography throughout the piece.
Contributing brilliantly to this idea of control versus chaos is the Video Projection Design of Gil Sperling. The walls are transformed from solid to translucent with live and pre-recorded video projections as part of the story, not distracting us, but rather screwing us down in our seats and hollowing us out because we, too, know this kind of all-consuming grief, shame and frustration with our lives, time and relationships. Salas shows us that life’s most overwhelming events do not happen in a vacuum. Your mother will be dying when you are realizing you don’t like this guy who is lying next to you when your father calls to tell you it’s time to come home and say good-bye. Just when you need to slow down and take a minute to sort it all out, the microwave dings and you must attend to what is steaming inside. Salas wipes at her shame with the industrial wipes bringing the rough paper up under her gown all the way to her mons venus and we recognize that futile feeling of trying TRYING TRYING to keep control. We know why she is drinking as she waits for the microwave to signal readiness again. Waiting – that time when memories swirl around in the lonely sterile examination room of our minds and we spray them down with the bleach of logic, but they come back like a stubborn strain of hepatitis.
But before we despair at all this familiarity of human experience, Salas is going to make you giggle. The first laugh came for me almost immediately at the confirmation that, as we move through the five stages of grief, we are not just grieving one thing; we are examining our history through those five lenses – all of our losses, all of our near death experiences, all of our guilty secrets – we are totally ridiculous creatures
sitting in bathtubs, downing bottles of wine, trying to distract ourselves. I was careful not to holler too loudly; I didn’t want my old friend to know I was there. I had heard some of these stories before of Salas’ painful moments of childhood; the miraculous survival of her parents whose beginnings were so much harder than we could imagine; the struggle to know and relate to our family as people, not infallible gods; the struggle to relate to God; the inability to put down that damn bottle and just enjoy the bath. But back then, we didn’t dare laugh. Thank Goddess, the wisdom of age comes with the bonus of laughter and Salas has become so blessed. And she’s also put down that cursed bottle yesterday, today and probably tomorrow, too. No; she’s not going to preach at us about that. Demonstrable courage doesn’t need proselytizing.
The way HOPE tells those old stories now brings us to the discovery of how investing in relationships with the people in our lives can bring us to the peace of acceptance. Salas gives us the complicated characters of her father, Frank Salas; mother, Alice Mae Salas; a brave sex-worker, Rose, who saved young Alice so that she could meet Frank; and she gives us her raw, honest self from childhood to now with all the beauty marks and other warts in various stages of healing. I just love the whole truth. I also really loved Rose. I want to see a whole show just about Rose. It was as if Salas disappeared entirely into sweet southern charming Rose. The real Rose is dead, but she is alive for 90 minutes in HOPE. And this was, is and always will be the unbelievable clever talent I expect of Salas – she can disappear so deeply into a character that we think someone else is in the room. It’s mind-blowing magic. And she is a multi-threat, People; don’t forget, Salas wrote this amazing gem loaded with poetry of phrase and many full servings of keepin’ it real.
Go see HOPE now. And when the fundraiser happens to put this show on again, give it your extra bucks so others can see it, too.
I was going to keep hiding and walk away last night, write this review and, when the show closed tomorrow, get in touch. But something made me go back from the street corner by The Wild Project theater last night. I walked back through the door to the lobby where Salas was standing glowing in a circle of admirers. She felt me before the door closed behind me, turned to me and hugged me so tight smelling of the same perfume from twenty years ago. She lovingly forgave me and invited me to stay a while. We talked for three hours.
HOPE – Conceived and Performed by Hope Salas; Directed by Erika Latta
Dramaturg Edwin Sanchez, Stage Manager Darielle Shandler, Set designer and Costume designer Marsha Ginsberg, Original Music and Sound design Yiannis Chistofides, Lighting designer Yuki Nakase, and Video Production design Gil Sperling.
At The Wild Project (195 E 3rd Street) through October 13, 2018.