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Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

The House of the Spirits
Vortex Theatre

Michelle Estrada Allred and Ruben Miller
Albuquerque's Vortex Theatre's current production marks the New Mexico premiere of Caridad Svich's theatrical adaptation of Isabel Allende's National Book Award-winning novel The House of the Spirits. Originally commissioned by New York City's Repertorio Español, Svich's acclaimed play spans five decades and three generations as it tells the story of the Trueba family. Set in an unspecified Latin American country (evocative of Allende's ancestral home of Chile), Svich's script assembles scenes, monologues and songs in a poetic montage that captures the sensual texture of Allende's family saga. As the play begins, the youngest of the Trueba women, Alba (portrayed with intensity by Liz Chavez), is confined in a torture chamber by the government. So imprisoned, Alba observes (whether in dream or in delusion, we are never told) as episodes from her family's history swirl before her. Ultimately, Svich's imaginative and atmospheric adaptation of Allende's novel charts how the alternately terrifying, humorous, lyrical and fantastic scenes of the Trueba family history finally provide Alba the strength to discern and recover her own story upon her release from prison.

For those audiences unfamiliar with the plot of Allende's original, Svich's impressionistic adaptation might present some challenges in terms of narrative clarity. Thankfully, the confident storytelling hand of director Valli Marie Rivera invests the production with emotional and dramatic lucidity. Rivera's work is ably assisted by an impressive team of collaborators both onstage and off. In particular, the elegant versatility of Josh Bien's set maximizes the tiny playing space, permitting Rivera's company to create moods ranging from vast openness to tight confinement with ease. Lighting by Skip Rapoport, sound by Marty Epstein, and projections by David Holmayer and Adam Theroux likewise effectively convey varied environments, both physical and emotional. Throughout, musical direction by Vivian Fernandez and choreography by Liz Chavez animate the sensual textures of Svich's nuanced play.

Onstage, Rivera's nine member ensemble essays more than twenty roles with impressive dexterity. Some take on three or four distinct roles. Others inhabit single characters from youth through adulthood into maturity and beyond. With splendid assistance from Jaime Pardo's impeccable and insightful costumes, Rivera guides her ensemble toward clear choices that both mark distinctions among and within characters even as such choices amplify the play's subtle emotional momentum. As the witness Alba, Liz Chavez's emotional immediacy sustains the play's intensity in even its most lyrical and light-hearted moments. Ruben Muller warms the stage as Pedro, Michelle Otero anchors it as Nivea and Benjamin Liberman keeps us guessing as Estéban GarcĂ­a. Beatriz Villegas is lovely as Blanca and Ed Chavez shines as "the handler" of the loving dog Barrabás. Michelle Estrada Allred impresses in four drastically disparate roles, her comedic verve often elevating her scenes (though possibly at the expense of the more poignant aspects of one of her characters, the tragic sister Ferula). As the Trueba patriarch, Mario Moreno's characterization comes into fine focus as his character matures. And Alicia Lueras Maldonado delivers a consummate, stunning performance as the pivotal character of Clara, palpably conveying Clara's spirit whether inhabiting the character as a child, as a bride or as a mature woman.

Under Rivera's sensitive direction, and with impressive technical support, the cast's formidable ensemble performance brings Svich's delicate play memorably to life on the Vortex stage. Like the Allende novel, both Svich's play and the Vortex's production invite us to consider—deeply, thoughtfully—our place in our own histories and in our own times. It is a worthwhile invitation, and reason enough to venture into The House of the Spirits.

The House of the Spirits by Caridad Svich (based on Isabel Allende's novel La casa de las espiritus), presented by The Vortex Theatre and directed by Valli Marie Rivera, runs November 18 through December 18, 2011, at The Vortex Theatre, 2004 1/2 Central Avenue SE, Albuquerque. Show times: Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, with additional shows on Sundays at 2pm. $15 general admission; $10 student rush. For reservations, visit or call 505-247-8600.

Photo: Alan Mitchell

--Brian Herrera

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