Sunday, October 7, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 104, A Review: "El Huracan" (Yale Repertory Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco

Ocean waves.

La familia.

This is the world of "El Huracan," Charise Castro Smith's absorbing, hypnotic, intellectually challenging world premiere drama that looks at life, past and present, with such passionate fluidity and attentiveness, it awakens that familial heartbeat in all of us.

Here, you get flat-out truths, raw, real and broken, mixed with a scrapping lyricism and fragility that is stripped bare by the playwright who leaves no stone unturned. Then again, that's the point of the piece, which allows clear and not-so-clear views of life, its engine of conflict, its undermining twists of fate, its crashing blows and its bleeding remembrances.

Es hermoso, a lo largo de.

The production, which kicks off Yale Rep's new 2018-2019 season, charts the chaos, pain and damage incited by 1992's Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Penelope, a fictitious one that occurs in 2019. At the center of the story, set in Miami, is a Cuban-American family, played by six different actors, all of whom assume multiple roles, often playing younger or older versions of themselves, achieved through quick-change costuming and well orchestrated character turns that are effortlessly conceived with Drama Department verve by this tremendously talented Yale Rep ensemble.

As scripted by Smith, "El Huracan" begins with an older, confused woman wandering alone onstage watching a younger version of herself dance (a la Fred and Ginger) and perform a simple magic act with a handsome male assistant, dressed in tails, looking lovingly into her eyes. This engaging, romantically-tinged remembrance is backed by Frank Sinatra's sweet-sounding "Come Fly With Me," the 1957 song hit that is lovingly weaved in and out of the action until the lights fade and it becomes a distant memory.

Flash forward, it's 1992. Much later, it's suddenly 2019.

Scene by scene, "El Huracan" drifts back and forth in time, presenting scenes in both Spanish and English, which, regardless of one's background and grasp of a second language, are pretty easy to follow based on the individual moment, the direction, the expressions, the body language and the actual line delivery of the performers. It's a concept that heightens "El Huracan's" already steadied velocity.

To bring "El Huracan" to life, Yale Rep has enlisted the talents of the very capable Laurie Woolery to take hold of Smith's redemptive and gripping story and give it the life it so richly deserves. A playwright, educator, producer and director, Woolery has worked at several prestigious theaters across the country including the Kennedy Center, the Goodman Theatre, the Public Theatre and the Cornerstone Theater Company. Bringing her back to New Haven (in 2017, she staged "Imogen Says Nothing") is a coup for both actor and the audience. And lastly, for Yale Rep.

Bienvenido de nuevo.

Under Woolery's inspired  direction, "El Huracan" is daring and truthful, overflowing with tremulous vitality and good intention. It is forceful when it needs to be. It is sentimental and illuminating, when called for. It is edgy and heartbreaking, depending on the moment. It is sexy and peculiar when the right moment strikes. It also swims beautifully between realism, dream and memory.

Because Woolery understands the piece backwards, forwards, front and center, each scene she develops smartly complements the intimate and raw intentions of Smith's evocative character study. She knows what works and what doesn't. She know when to pause, hold or jump start a moment, a character twist or expression. She moves the actor's freely and intuitively about the vast, handsomely designed set by Gerardo Diaz Sanchez. And when things are stripped bare (parts of the set disappear to reveal the back wall and wings of the University Theatre), to signal loss, decay and destruction, this particular directorial choice and others (stage hands move scenery or help actors dress and undress in full view of the audience) makes perfect scene.

"El Huracan" stars Adriana Sevahn Nichols as Valeria, Maria-Christina Oliveras as Ximena, Jennifer Paredes as Alicia, Val and Dr. Kempler, Arturo Soria as Young Alonso, Fernando and Theo, Irene Sofia Lucio as Young Valeria and Miranda and Jonathan Nicholas as Alonso.

Gifted, talented and focused, all six performers stand out individually or in scenes, where they work together as one important, unified ensemble. They love what they do and it shows. They are so very right for the role or roles they have been asked to portray. Their intuitive level of trust, dedication, drive and synchronicity is unbeatable. Their understanding and knowledge of the material is pitch perfect. They demand and command attention right from the start. And everyone, skillfully develops their very different roles and characters in accordance with the plot machinations of Smith's timeless and truthful story.

"El Huracan" is a striking, heartfelt production. It contains some very electrifying dramatic, tender and wistful moments that add depth to Smith's already emotional story. It gives you plenty to think about. It gives you plenty to admire. And when it's finally over, the overall effect of the story and its people, lingers.

Vaya y disfrute!

Photos by T. Charles Erickson

"El Huracan" is being staged at Yale Repertory Theatre (University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven, CT), now through October 20.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 432-1234

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