by Mark Dunn
There are a couple of reasons I enjoy seeing plays at Teatro Paraguas. First, the intimacy of the space makes for a more naturally intimate relationship between actor and audience, which can't help but enhance audience investment in the performance. Second, Teatro reminds me of all the small theatres I went to in New York as a young playwright learning his craft. Often the performances were less about the play itself and more about what some very talented actors were doing with the material (and if they were lucky, some casting director or agent might pop her head in and help to make them famous).
Teatro Paraguas's latest production, Enfrascada by Tanya Saracho, is all about wonderful acting. The theater has made an interesting but workable choice to have the show helmed not by a single director, but by five—all members of the cast. And for you directors out there raising an eyebrow over whether such an approach can work, for this show and its incredibly cohesive cast, it works nicely.
Enfrascada ("absorbed" or "embroiled" for us non-Spanish speakers) is a play about chemistry. Not the laboratory kind of chemistry, but the sort of ancient alchemy in which magical concoctions are mixed, shaken, and then unleashed upon those we love, who seem to have stopped loving us (and only a love potion will bring them back), or more sinisterly, to pay a person back for all the heartache he or she has caused. Says Cat, one of the three mystics who guide poor Alicia in her efforts to revive her boyfriend's love for her through carefully engineered magic: "It was never as complicated as all that. Either you want to get someone, or get someone back." Alicia doesn't believe in the magic. At first. But once she changes her mind, she becomes obsessed—paying whatever price in money and dignity to get herself re-enfolded in her beloved Diego's arms. Her two best friends and her cousin watch her disturbing transformation and note with growing concern what it is doing to her, as the women try to hold on to their long, close friendship.
This is a play about chemistry in another way as well. The performances of the show's four female leads are so fun and engaging that I want to put them all in one of the jars that clutter the stage and take them home to my own kitchen and just sit and listen to them continue their wonderfully wicked conversations about life and love and shoes and the best song ever written. (There's no consensus on that last one.) With sensitivity and warmth, Roxanne Tapia plays the beleaguered Alicia, who serves as perfect straight-woman foil for her witty, wisecracking companions. As Alicia's cousin Lulu, Liza Forrester Frolkis is on point in every moment of her performance, playing a philosophical, aphorism-spouting Greek chorus of one. At one point as the four pals sit in the car on a stakeout, Frolkis takes a pronged garden tool and mindlessly begins to comb her hair; this bit of business isn't in the script. This is an actor who knows what her character should be doing in every moment on stage, and it's comic gold.
I've had the pleasure of seeing Alix Hudson (Caro) and Juliet Salazar (Yesenia) before, and I knew I'd be in for a treat. Both actors give heart and depth to roles that could easily be caricatured (the playwright has created a somewhat derivative "Sex and the City" dynamic for her quartet, which this talented foursome effortlessly escapes), Hudson and Salazar delivering some of the play's best lines with an organic embrace of character that makes these women lovable and very human.
The script is a little uneven and would have been better served by holding with the four lead characters for much longer—since to me, the play is less about the chemistry of the occult and more about the chemistry of close friendship—the kind of friendship in which you can say whatever you want to those you love, and never have to pay a price. But there are enough of these scenes of silly, sassy, and sensitive bonding between these four fun friends that Enfrascada is more than redeemed and well worth your time.
Hats off to the rest of the cast, Leia Kelly, Jojo Sena-Tarnoff, and the three magic-makers, Michelle Artiaga, Maria Cristina López and Danette Sills, for their contributions to the evening.
Co-direction may not work for every play out there, but it serves Enfrascada well, and co-directors Frolkis, Hudson, Salazar, Sena-Tarnoff, and Sills are to be commended.
Come see this show. "Sex in the City," eat your broken heart out!
Enfrascada is being performed Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm. Through March 12, 2017. Info at teatroparaguas.org or (505) 424.1601. The running time is a little over 2 hours, including an intermission.