Renaissance Theaterworks opens with emotional "Enfrascada"
An emotional journey that takes you from rollicking laughter through itching curiosity and finally to a firm tug on your heart is the bill of fare as the marvelous Renaissance Theaterworks opens its 20th season.
The play, which opened Saturday night, is "Enfrascada" by Tanya Saracho, a Chicago actor and playwright who is developing a nice relationship with Milwaukee.
When this play begins you might think you are watching an R-rated version of an old Carol Burnett show, with jokes coming so fast it's easy to miss the next one because you are still wrapped up in the last one.
But before this is over you have moved from raunchy comedy to something like the pure tragedy of Juliet, waking to find her Romeo dead and then stabbing herself with his dagger.
It's an absolute, unexpected emotional roller coaster.
This is the Latina version of "Sex and the City," and the parallels are striking, including the one-dimensional characters that are almost a stereotype of a stereotype. But, nobody ever watched "Sex and the City" for depth.
You have the troubled heroine, Alicia, who just found out her long-time boyfriend has a new girl.
You have her two BFFs, Yesenia, a mouth like a truck driver and a libido on fast-forward, and Carolina – smooth, happy, about to be joyously pregnant. Then you throw in Lulu, a cousin whose native language is the "trite quotation."
If you see the four ladies from "Sex and the City" there is no trouble with your eyes.
But just as you settle down for an evening of laughter, the road slowly becomes less of a manic Saturday night and more of a mysterious and mystifying Sunday morning.
You see, Alicia's friends want her to visit a señora, a faith healer. The friends each have their own favorite señora, and, reluctantly, Alicia agrees.
Each señora she visits has plans and schemes and promises of spells and curses. Each señora devises a potion that must be kept in a jar.
Gradually, grudgingly and hopefully, Alicia starts to believe. She builds the potions, as directed, and keeps them in a growing collection of jars. As she falls deeper and deeper under the spell of passionate desire to hook back up with her Diego we begin to share the eventual caution of her friends.
They made her drink this Kool-Aid and now they want to wean her off it and into the harsh reality of straight water.
Alicia's final visit to a señora is when this play begins to move from the frivolous to the frightening.
"Jars are no problem." Alicia says as she embraces the most extreme scheme yet. "I have a million jars. I'm the queen of jars."
And from there we end up in a cemetery where she is about to desecrate the grave of a 5-year-old in hopes of creating a spell that works. Her friends leave her alone and she sobs uncontrollably over a broken bottle of rum and the gravestone of a child she never knew.
Watching her weep makes you want to wrap your arms around her and pat her on the head, telling her that life will be OK.
The five women in the cast manage to be both searingly funny and forcefully dangerous and dramatic in one 90-minute block of time. They are aided by wonderful direction from Michelle Lopez-Rios, who is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Special mention also has to go to Samantha C. Jones who designed a bewildering array of costumes that captured the spirit or each character at different life points. It was a wonderful display.
"Enfrascada" runs through Nov. 11. Tickets are available at the box office at 158 N. Broadway and on the website at r-t-w.com.
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