Comedic, a bit awkward, and heartwarmingly cathartic. Just a few words to describe an experience of Seattle Repertory Theater’s interpretation of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.
This is a story about coming of age. We are taken along by Julia Reyes (Karen Rodriguez) through all the changes, and ups and downs, she faces in her life. One of the most prominent is that of her older sister Olga (played by Sofia Raquel Sanchez) who died from a traffic accident.
Set in present-day Chicago, Julia is a teenager who tries to sustain a normal life to the best of her ability. All the while her parents lack involvement in her years of adolescence, up until her sister’s disappearance. Her mother (Jazmin Corona) makes several appearances to portray the difficulty of day-to-day encounters and conflicts she has with Julia. What should be tight-knit is a loose-threaded relationship between this family. Conversations between Julia and her mother don’t come easily, especially when Olga gets thrown into the mix.
The effects of sound created an atmosphere appropriate for each scene. Sometimes momentarily more frightening than others. Music would come around at certain times to emphasize or dramatize the emotions of the characters. When things between them got heated, there would be a noticeable absence of sound to linger at the time. The use of an echo-y microphone made it seem as if a voice was distant, further engaging the audience. Really, there was never a dull moment.
What was visible to all told us more than what needed to be said. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” would suit the description of this play, in an alternative way.
The lighthearted moments ease the audience into the story after its unexpected beginning. There were times the audience would roar with laughter, the jokes hitting just the right note. In more serious acts, Rodriguez would delve into the role of a teenage girl dissimilar from the rest, swaying the audience with her heart-rendering performance. You could feel your chest tighten at the anticipation of knowing when something was bound to go wrong. Some moments even manage to bring a tear to my eye. Rodriguez certainly did well in representing Julia in terms of emotions and personality, through the body language of her facial expressions and hand movement. Emotions such as distress, disgust, and even brief joy were evident in each moment. It’s as if I were there when I can feel the awkwardness of intrusion of a conversation, or even second-hand embarrassment.
The technical elements were outstanding. A vivid curtain appeared sheer when placed in front of bright lights, especially highlighting what was placed behind when the room went dark. And of course, the beautiful mural it displayed. What a sight to behold, the stage itself was a piece of art: a majestic, multi-colorful bird that spanned from one of the curtains to the other. The rotating platform added an element of movement, making it easy for the cast to move quickly and swiftly between scenes. Each monologue brought the stage to a standstill, with lights directed on Julia as she spoke out to the crowd.
Props were used creatively and sparingly, consisting of tables and chairs, a door, a bench, and a small few others. These objects created the settings for Julia’s home, school, and events. Minor shifts like these were important to the story because new characters would be introduced and suddenly made things more interesting when interacting with Julia.
Like many novels turned live-action, it isn’t clear which parts will be kept and which won’t. Since I read the book beforehand, I found it surprising at times when I expected a scene to come up and it was skipped over, But it’s all part of the theater magic. There were some scenes that were a bit slow, and some that maybe were rushed, but overall the theater was able to cut parts out while the whole of it still made sense.
A bit hectic at times, but necessarily so. I’d certainly recommend this production to someone who may see a play for the first time. The play was not difficult to comprehend and was highly relatable. This performance was practically perfect.