Lucila's Story: a play for Gabriela Mistral
nytheatre.com review by Jessica McVea
August 9, 2008
Lucila's Story is a charming hour-long play about a little girl in late-19th century Spain. Lucila, surrounded by the rest of the cast sitting on colorful stools, begins by selling candies in her little town of Montegrande. We meet her discontented sister and her loyal but conflicted mother and soon learn that Lucila will be traveling to another village in Chile to go an actual school. We also meet Lucila's best friend, The Queen of Truth, a tree spirit in the forest of the Valley of Elqui. Remember her—she's quite important within the plot.
The set is very sparse—the aforementioned colorful stools are the only set dressing on the stage—and all the actors sit in a semi-circle and watch the play unfold. While I enjoyed watching the actors react to scenes they weren't in (Annalise Derr, who plays Lucila, was particularly good at this), I felt that much more of the stage could have been used. Some scenes were cramped into corners, some overlapped into others so I wasn't quite sure what village or even what scene we were in.
I felt the actors tried hard to work within the confines of this small world, but ultimately didn't quite overcome it. Granted, I went on opening night, which always brings its own set of problems. But because the play is set in three different villages, and yet no differentiation between these worlds is made, the play is harder to follow and the characters not quite as commanding as they could be. Annalise Derr, our little girl heroine, and Elena Araozuse, Lucila's big sister Emmelina, are two exceptions. I could see their world when they stepped into it, as I couldn't see it with other actors. I really enjoyed their characters and wish I could have seen more of a story between the two of them.
Another slight problem that I had with the overall script was that I wasn't sure who Lucila was or why her story needed to be told. The program tells us that Gabriela Mistral (Lucila's pseudonym when she became an adult) was a "Chilean poet, educator, diplomat, and feminist," but none of this is even touched upon in the play until the very end with a few nondescript monologues. Not knowing much about Chilean culture or politics, I would have loved to see this in the play and then gone back to watch her childhood story. True, some of her poems are read in the play, but what about her work as an educator or a diplomat? What about her Nobel Prize in Literature? With a show that runs about an hour, there is ample opportunity to give us a few highlights on why she is so important to Chilean culture and then take us back into the struggles that ultimately define her as a person.
All this being said, it is a charming play, and one of the reasons for this that I haven't touched upon yet is the hauntingly beautiful music that floats throughout the piece. Three musicians join the cast on the stools and play throughout the piece. I found myself wishing for more, especially when Lucila's mother starts crooning to her—Elizabeth Acosta has a gorgeous voice and I wanted so much more of it!
On the whole, I stand by my beginning statement—Lucila's Story is a charming little piece with beautiful music and a few very effective moments.