As a high school student who doesn’t get out much, I have not seen many live stage plays. My most memorable experience with theater before seeing I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was in a kindergarten choir where I played a sheep. Now, picture me and my friends walking into the Seattle Repertory Theatre, seeing the doors to the seating area and the stage behind it, and all we can see on a stage we expected to be empty is the actress for Olga lying prone in her raised coffin. I hadn’t even set my bags down yet, and immediately an impression had been made on me. I did not yet know it, but this play would end up easily being one of the best that I have personally seen up until this point.
The broad summary of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, both the book and play, is simple and small in scope. The eldest daughter of a family of four (now three) dies tragically, and the family must fall apart before being put back together the best they can over time. Upon looking past just the aspects of loss and grief, you can find themes of friendship, mental health, and internalized trauma from many key points in the play. Julia’s deep-rooted trust and search for comfort in Lorena during her low moments, the scene where Julia ends up cutting herself that manages to slowly break your heart before stopping it completely, and the revelations about Julia’s parents near the end of the play. With underlying notes of mystery surrounding Olga’s life, we end up exploring both her and Julia through the plotline of Julia’s impromptu investigation, and we end the play knowing Julia’s mind inside and out and Olga’s story from conception to demise. And, as a viewer, I truly enjoyed it.
As a visual medium, many things stood out to me. The costuming, for one, was brilliant. Every character looked different despite sharing a small pool of actors, some to where I could hardly even tell they were played by the same person. There wasn’t a single costume I disliked, and there were many that I found that I personally really loved. For the most prominent examples of the costumes I liked the best, it had to be a tie between Olga’s dream sequence mermaid dress, Julia’s pink dress, and Lorena’s base outfit with the leopard print jeans and boots I honestly wanted to steal. In my opinion, every outfit Olga’s actress wore was perfect, not only for its design, but for one specific detail a friend pointed out to me, which is that everyone who was connected to Olga had some yellow in their costume, the same kind of yellow that made up Olga’s dress. To me, that attention to detail and overall quality of the costume design made me appreciate the play on a more technical level, like a lot of other elements.
Also, I feel like here is a good time to mention a point where the play amends a detail from the book that I personally would also have fixed myself, and that’s Julia’s outfit. I remember a key detail that really pulled her out of the zone of relatability in the book was a description of what she was wearing early on, which included, but was not limited to, a short black dress and red fishnet stockings. To school. Please, take a moment to consider the way that rocketed me back to reading terrible Wattpad fiction back in the day. It really speaks to the play’s attention to the personal shortcomings of the source material.
One thing I commend the play for as well is how it shortens much longer scenes from the book to make a much more streamlined, engaging experience for the audience, like the scene where Julia finds Olga’s old things, for example. However, I feel like one place this attitude was sorely lacking was the intimate scene between Julia and Connor. I personally would have shortened that scene significantly. Everything could have been just as easily told by cutting to dark when Julia and Connor start hanging all over each other and putting the lights back on with them laying on the stage floor like a bed, and it would have been a lot more comfortable to watch. I would not recommend sitting in a crowd of none-too-quiet middle and high schoolers with the version of this scene we were treated to.
All in all, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter was a lovely experience that I would gladly see again, and especially see the making of, due to many stand-out special effects that I really don’t want to spoil for you as a potential viewer. Even while I was watching, I could clearly see the quality of this play, its actors, and everyone who worked on this. I am very glad this play was something I got to experience, and it’s genuinely pushed me to want to see more plays in my future.