By Ilaria Cutolo
Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares, written by Christine Stoddard and Directed by Fiamma Piacentini, explores the life of teenager Maya (Andie Fuentes) a Salavadoran-American girl. Maya is navigating life in Phoenix, Arizona with her single mother, Mami (Lupita Asto), alongside the ghost of her deceased Abuela (Telba Cavero) and the ancestral and societal traumas that are part and parcel of her existence. This is a magical story capturing the rebellion and essence of a young teenage girl coming of age and caught in the ‘in-between’. She struggles with a depressed and emotionally absent mother while coming to terms with her deceased grandmother’s past (Abuela) who haunts her mind, spirit, and physical space. All the while navigating the ongoing sinister cycles of racism and sexism inherent in both her society and her familial dynamics.
The show opens with two native Salvadoran women dressed in native clothing performing a ritual with slow movements, ethereal music, and symbolism. Humor does not go missing in this production as one of the women stumbles with the concha she holds and is lightly reprimanded by the other. The stage is both simplistic in decor and artistic with giant pink and red roses featured in the background and a small grave in the foreground. Actors are dressed as cacti and jaguars make appearances throughout the play- lending a whimsical and innocent storybook quality to the overall production. They are all welcoming features to what will be heavy topics regarding racism, sexism, and rape, all difficult to digest, but are somehow made accessible to our human imaginations when explored through the magical lens that creator and author Stoddard bequeaths us with. I was impressed at how such topics were given the right amount of weight all the while doling out humor at just the right moments, neither interfering with nor diminishing the play’s weighty themes.
Both Fuentes and Asto give achingly sincere and down-to-earth performances capturing a fraught mother-daughter dynamic performed with stage power and moxie. I enjoyed the dream-like pacing of the play as I was transported to ancient and almost Shamanic realms at moments when reality proved too fraught and too much. I left the show feeling both challenged, changed, and inspired- a sometimes rare feat to accomplish these days. The minimalist music of Sebastian Gutierrez and set design by Stoddard must be noted for their surreal and enchanting qualities that heighten the actors’ performance. If you have 75 minutes to spare, I highly recommend checking out this engaging one-act play.
WITH: Adriana Ascencio (Salvadoran Woman/Jaguar), Lupita Asto (Mami), Telba Cavero (Abuela), Andie Fuentes (Maya), Addy Marshas (Father/Sheriff/Jaguar), and Ash Patlan (Salvadoran Woman/Jaguar/Owl).
Set Design by Rodrigo Escalante; Costume Design by Fiamma Piacentini; Lighting Design by Jen Leno; Sound Design by Sebastian Gutierrez; Prop Design by Christine Stoddard; Stage Manager- Madeline C. Yara; Production Assistants- Ana Camila and Christine Snow. At The Tank, www.thetanknyc.org, 212-563-6269, 312 W 36TH ST, NEW YORK, NY 10018 (in the 98 Seat Proscenium Theater).INFO@THETANKNYC.ORG. Tickets begin at $10 and the performance schedule is as follows: September 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 28th, 29th, 30th at 7:00 PM; September 10th, 17th, 24th, and October 1st at 3:00 PM. Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.