Saturday, April 4, 2009

Flesh and Blood

It should come as no surprise that when the economy is shitty and national malaise runs rampant, people gravitate toward entertainment that will help them forget their troubles.

“The success of comedies in troubled times was demonstrated during the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Reuters reports, “when families flocked to madcap movies by Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.”

So you’ve got to hand it to Miracle Theatre for staging the heavy drama El Grito del Bronx at a time like this. My companion, who just got downsized the same week that she was moving into her new house, excused herself at intermission because the subject matter was such a downer.

But that’s not to say it’s an unworthy production. Bronx-bred playwright Migdalia Cruz brings a street-smart realism to a story that takes place on a young Puerto Rican woman’s wedding day with flashbacks to the rocky road that brought her there: Lulu (Cristi Miles) remembers the abusive relationship between her mother María (Marjorie Tatum) and father José (Stephen Lisk) that led her brother Papo (Matthew Dieckman) to commit patricide, go on a killing spree and land on death row. All of this darkness is countered by the warm relationship she forms with a Jewish journalist (Spencer Conway) as he works on an article involving a black woman named Sarah (Ithica Tell) whose son was electrocuted in a freak accident. But even as Lulu’s life moves in a positive direction, memories of her imprisoned brother hang like a shadow—quite literally, as the intense prison scenes unfold directly behind the tender love scenes, creating a vivid juxtaposition of the siblings’ divergent lives.

It’s not an easy play to watch, especially during the violent acts of Papo, and I sometimes had trouble following Cruz’s ornate, poetic structure. Still, the cast effectively brings to life these vivid, damaged characters as they struggle toward redemption. Particularly moving is a musical sequence in which three grieving mothers—María, Sarah and a woman (Lisamarie Harrison) whose son (Kurt Conroyd) was murdered by Papo—use the power of song to express their sorrow.

El Grito del Bronx runs through April 25 at 525 S.E. Stark St. For tickets click here.

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