nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
June 6, 2011
When Alicia’s fiancé cheats on her and ultimately leaves her for another woman, Alicia doesn’t want revenge. She doesn’t want to get even with Diego. She doesn’t want to punish him or his new girlfriend. She just wants things to go back to the way they were—back to normal, back to Alicia and Diego living together with their dog, Bandito, and having friends over to watch football on Monday nights. But when Diego won’t even take her phone calls, the normally rational, clear-minded, un-superstitious Alicia finds herself taking a suggestion from her two best friends that she would normally scoff at: a visit to a señora—herbalist, soothsayer, counselor, and spell-caster rolled into one woman, with the power to effect solutions where conventional Western medicine, psychology, or self-help has failed.
Where Carolina and Yesenia swear by the range of remedies provided by the señoras—from Tarot cards to herbal medicines, from charms to spiritual readings—the more skeptical Alicia (who barely speaks Spanish and needs to bring one of the others along to translate) is initially more than dubious, treating her first visit as an anthropological investigation rather than a possible solution to her problem. But the more she suffers, and the stronger her obsession with regaining her past becomes, the more she finds herself believing—and willing to try. Alicia’s relationship with and attraction to the culture of the señoras, with the power they represent and the promise they hold out to her, is one of the play’s darkest, strangest, and most powerful elements.
The Spanish word “frasco” means, among other things, “jars”; the play’s title, Enfrascada, is a pun that can mean both “jarred” and “engrossed,” or “wrapped up”—a word used to describe Diego’s relationship with his new, very Anglo girlfriend, Bethany. And in the hands of the curanderas, Alicia is soon putting her faith into the contents of jars: a jar full of honey, cinnamon, and brown sugar to bind Diego to her; a jar full of vinegar to be buried under his doorstep. But when even Carolina and Yesenia start to feel that Alicia’s going too far, something’s got to give.
The major strength and the major weakness of Tanya Saracho’s play lie in the characters, a richly drawn set of individuals whose relationships don’t always seem to me to add up. Each of the friends has a vivid, clearly limned portrayal—the fiercely independent, successful, passionately loyal Yesenia; the sweet, peacemaking, slightly spacey Carolina; Alicia, who’s used her quiet conviction to build herself a life that was never perhaps quite as idealized as she imagined it—as do many of the minor characters, especially the three señoras Alicia consults.
But the friendship among them, especially as it grows to include Lulu, Alicia’s philosophy-quoting graduate student cousin (with whom she takes refuge after moving out of the apartment she’d shared with Diego), often felt a little contrived to me. Perhaps it’s because in the context of the play, their focus is so fully on the Alicia/Diego situation, but in the moments where they’re talking about anything else—as in the play’s opening scene—the conversation often seems to remain superficial; I never really got a sense of the history or weight of these relationships, of what brought them together and what keeps them so close. Alicia’s relationship with Diego (who never appears in the play), too, remains something of a cipher—we learn scattered facts about him but don’t really get a sense of the life they shared, or the real value to Alicia of what she has lost.
As ever with Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks festival, the production elements, from Jerry Ruiz’s direction through Steven Kemp’s cleverly transforming set and Emily DeAngelis’s smartly stylish costumes, are all simple, elegant, and effective.
And the strength of the performances (Flora Diaz, exquisitely constrained as Alicia; Jessica Pimentel, relishing the brassiness of Yesenia; Anna Lamadrid, a delightfully earnest Carolina; and Christina Pumariega, bringing an earth-mother groundedness to the hippie-esque Lulu) brings power to the emotional bonds among the friends, filling out some of the blanks left by the writing. Annie Henk’s remarkable energy as the three different señoras gives a genuine otherworldliness to all the scenes in which she appears.
It’s a pleasure to spend time with these strong, complex characters; I only wish their group identities were as fully imagined as their individual ones.