Review by Brittany Crowell
On the eve of receiving a lifetime achievement award, Anuncia tends to her garden. She inspects the flowering tomatoes, not yet ripe; she speaks to the anemones, telling them the story of how she got here; and she searches for a final resting spot for the ashes of her aunt.
The Gardens of Anuncia then takes us back through the winding roads of Anuncia’s memory, weaving a tale based on the stories of director / choreographer (for this piece and countless others) Graciela Daniele. The tale is less about Anuncia herself, but more focused on the three matriarchs who raised her, taught her to tell stories, to dance, and to be strong and outspoken. Raised in the time of Peròn’s Argentina, the piece is an act of gratitude to these women and all those who make us who we are and help us through difficult times.
Written and with music by Michael John LaChiusa, the piece is also a love letter to his collaboration with Daniele, which began on a Lincoln Center Production, Hello Again, roughly 30 years ago. Collaborating on countless projects, LaChiusa was inspired by the snippets of history he would hear from Daniele and decided to craft these stories into a piece about her childhood and the fierce women who helped to form the talented multi-hyphenate artist.
The ensemble cast grounds the piece: leaning into its deep emotion, while embracing its magical whimsy. The three matriarchs, played by Andréa Burns, Mary Testa, and Eden Espinosa (theater royalty each in their own right) share the strength of women who have overcome, and provide insight into the various sensitivities and talents of Anuncia: Tia teaches her how to tell stories, Mama teaches her the beauty of the dance, and Granmama passes along her flair for the dramatics.
Our two Anuncias also embody this balance between natural and magical, at times wafting through the space in a beautifully balletic fashion, while at others leaning into the ground and the cyclical nature of the divine feminine. Priscilla Lopez grounds us as the storyteller and self-proclaimed untrustworthy narrator, leading us fearlessly as we eagerly follow her through the story of her upbringing. Young Anuncia is performed by a wonderful Kalyn West, who brings a childlike play to the stage along with the wisdom of one who knows what’s yet to come.
The set highlights the magical realism at play. Many hanging flowers placed at length along floor to ceiling beaded strings (designed by Mark Wendland) set the stage for trees, prison cells, house walls, and other dimensions as they are given color and light by the design of Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhaur (recreated for this production by David Lander).
The Gardens of Anuncia is a wonderfully magical and heartfelt piece. It is less concerned about what is real and more concerned about what is meaningful. As our narrator tells us, some memories can be changed – others are too important to change. And as Anuncia tends to her garden with soil and water and nourishment, she is also tending to the audience by refilling our cup with beloved memories and tales that teach us too to be strong, stand up for our beliefs, follow our dreams, and give love (and thanks) to those who uplift us.
THE GARDENS OF ANUNCIA – written by Michael John LaChiusa; directed & choreographed by Graciele Daniele
FEATURING – Priscilla Lopez (older Anuncia); Kalyn West (Younger Anuncia); Andréa Burns (Tia); Mary Testa (Granmama); Eden Espinosa (Mama); Enrique Acevedo (Granpapa / That Man / The Priest / Mustache Brother) & Tally Sessions (The Deer / Mustache Brother)
With sets by Mark Wendland; costumes by Toni-Leslie James; lighting by Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhaur; lighting design recreated by David Lander; sound design by Drew Levy; orchestrations by Michael Starobin; music direction by Deborah Abramson; and co-choreography by Alex Sanchez. Produced by Lincoln Center Theater: André Bishop, artistic director; Adam Siegel, managing director; Naomi Grabel, executive director of development and planning. Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (150 West 65 Street). https://www.lct.org/shows/gardens-anuncia/