Excellent Adaptation from Page to Stage

Review of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Written by Hayley Ann Dacome during an Arts Criticism workshop at Evergreen High School

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When I first checked out I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, I was sure it was going to be boring, as I thought it would have too many dreadful problems in the story for me to keep up with. As I kept reading, the story became intriguing to me. Every time I flipped a page, it was sometimes the funny dialogue between Julia and her best friend Lorena, or drama-filled suspense. As a person who has recently started her journey of reading more young adult novels, I’d usually finish a novel in a month and a half. I was so surprised by the fact that I was able to finish the book in two weeks, I guess this shows how interesting the book was for me to try read toward the end.

For the past month, our class has been reading a remarkable young adult novel by Erika Sanchez, about a Mexican teenage girl, Julia, who is dealing with the death of her older sister, Olga, and the heavy expectations her parents have given her to be the perfect daughter. Not only that, she feels a sense of mystery with her sister, that Olga wasn’t who her parents really thought she was. In this review, I will be reviewing the play of this very novel, and talk about why it’s worth a watch. To briefly give an overview of this play, the plot is basically almost exactly the same as the book. Now, I don’t want to give out spoilers, but even though I read the novel prior to watching this play, I was shocked at how the play had played out.

In the Seattle Repertory theater, when we entered the theater room, we were greeted by a beautiful beaded curtain, with a bright color pallet. I noticed that most of the prop chairs were painted to match and blend in with the colors of the unique beaded curtain. This added a nice small detail to the play, because if the chairs were painted with only one solid color, like black, they wouldn’t stick out as much nor would you understand what the actors were doing. I was also surprised by the fact that the ground of the stage would turn during certain scenes of the play. Karen Rodriguez, the actress who played Julia was very expressive, which I enjoyed. Even though I knew the actors would be professional, I was amazed at how the actress for Julia really became her. The lights were very strong and strategic. They were used to highlight important parts of the scene and set the mood of each scene beautifully. Each actor played their characters so well, that when some of the actors played side characters, I was able to differentiate them from their main characters. The dialogues between the characters were very powerful. When they fought, the echoes of their yelling sent waves of emotions to the audience, especially to me during one of the arguing scenes, because it made me tear up a bit.

With all the things they did well, there are some things that I did not understand nor liked in both the novel and in the play. For example, the characters of Julia’s love interests, Esteban and Connor, didn’t really stick out to me nor do I think that their relationship with Julia made sense. Both of them felt like they were rushed into the story, and I didn’t really see any strong connections with Julia. When Julia met Connor, sure their meeting was cute, but he doesn’t seem to give that much effort into their relationship. For example, in the novel, Julia seems like she wanted to make their relationship official after high school, but Connor told her that he liked what they had in the moment, even though he said he wanted to be her boyfriend in one scene prior to the conversation. Secondly, when Julia met Esteban in the play, she quickly warmed up to him which didn’t make sense to me, when she’s mostly so judgemental to others in the story. Which brings me to Julia’s character in general. Even though I understood why obstacles in Julia’s life made her act the way she did in the story, I was still annoyed about how she would execute her plans and how she treated others. For example, in the play when Lorena and Juanga met, Julia was immediately rude to Juanga, and would put Lorena down when she was excited about her favorite lip balm. I also did not like the scene in the play where Julia asks Lorena, “but what if I’m not ready?” before she goes to Connor’s house, and Lorena replies with something along the lines of that there’s no such thing about being “ready” when it comes to having intercourse with someone. I think this part spreads misinformation to people, especially to the younger audiences like the middle schoolers who were also present when I viewed the play.

Other than that, going back to the part where I mentioned that in the live action play, some aspects of the story changed. For example, the play became more modernized, with mentions of social media like Tik Tok and Grubhub. There was also a scene where instead of Olga’s conversation with her secret lover were through emails on a laptop, they were text messages on Olga’s phone. I thought this was a smart move, because it allows the play to connect with the audience more, as it shows that it happens in present time. There was also a twist in the story, where Julia learned about what happened to her mother and how Olga was not the biological daughter of their Apa. When I read the novel, I also thought that they would go with that storyline, but that wasn’t included so it really was a shock to me so much so that I gasped even more during the play. I also liked how they used the sounds of the subway during the subway train scene and the sound of flushing toilets during the cleaning scene because it really helped show what the characters were doing especially when they did not show an actual toilet or changed the background for the train scene. Based on the overall story, I would think that the meaning of this story would be about secrets, trust, breaking expectations, mental health, and growth.

Overall, the value of reading this story and watching the play is a great journey to go through. Especially those who’d either relate to Julia’s story or want to learn what it’s like for different people. There might be others who would disagree or not like how things go in certain scenes and just stop reading right there or can’t stand some of the characters’ personalities. However, if people look past those parts and really understand the characters, those who would enjoy the humor, the drama, and the growth that this story goes through, would definitely enjoy the longer version of this unique play.

Photo credit: Karen Rodriguez and Michael Monicatti in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter at Seattle Rep. Photo by Nate Watters.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Criticism workshop at Evergreen High School in Emily Acquino's Language Arts classes, taught by Press Corps teaching artists Beth Pollack and Marquicia Dominguez.

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