Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The House on Mango Street
Park Square Theatre

Also see Arthur's review of New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch De Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656


Stephanie Ruas and Alejandra C. Tobar
The House on Mango Street is Park Square Theatre's inaugural production in its beautiful new playing space, the Andy Boss Thrust Stage. The play, Amy Ludwig's affectionate adaptation of Sandra Cisneros' novel, tells the story of Esperanza, a Latina girl growing up in a Chicago barrio during the 1960s and '70s. Both the theater and the production bring a burst of new energy to the Twin Cities theater scene.

The play is a very lightly constructed string of Esperanza's experiences, told in real time as well as in memory, with two actresses playing two Esperanzas—the young Esperanza and the older Esperanza, who is always present, often perched at a writing table observing and recording the scenes from her past. The device of two perspectives, one in present moment, the other reflecting back on that moment, works surprisingly well, giving the play both the depth that perspective can bring and the spontaneous energy of a young woman discovering her own life. At times, older Esperanza takes young Esperanza's place in the present, experiencing anew the joyful and terrible moments of her life. At other times, they provide comfort to one another, creating images of healing and finding strength through our own story.

The various incidents of Esperanza's life begin with her family settling into The House on Mango Street after a life of frequent moves. They look forward to a real home, with high expectations that are soon dashed by the reality of the small, cramped quarters that they find. Esperanza's parents, brothers, friends, various relatives, teachers, and other are portrayed by an ensemble of six actors, who swirl around Esperanza's life and inform her understanding of community and home. From the start, Esperanza knows that this place will not be the boundary of her life, that she has the drive to move on to a wider plane of existence, but that does not keep her from learning to love and respect both the place and the people of her origins.

There are scenes of immense giddiness, such as Esperanza and her two best friends, Lucy and Rachel, riding three on a bicycle, with the exhilaration of tumbling down a hill almost out of control, or the girls' thrill in learning to walk in high heel shoes and discovering what it means to have womanly legs. Other scenes instill pride, such as Esperanza's uncle insisting that she is the prettiest girl at a neighborhood dance, bringing her to the dance floor, and drawing all eyes to their graceful moves.

There are also scenes of emotional, physical, and spiritual hurt and loss. When Esperanza's devoted mother shares her regrets, that she "could have been something," or when Esperanza sees her father, who has never cried in her presence, crumble in grief upon the death of his father, we see Esperanza growing up before our eyes, her innocence being recast into strength and character.

The fluidity with which director Dipankar Mukherjee steers Esperanza's recollection of her youth from highs to lows and back again creates an understanding of the totality of this life, and the community from which it springs. A scene that is alive with the raucous playfulness of Esperanza's brothers can transform to a darkly mysterious older cousin whose longings will only lead to trouble, in ways that make perfect sense. Of course, life is this, but it is also that.

As older Esperanza, Adlyn Carreras is a constant presence, at times looking on with deep affection, at other times mirroring the hurt that her young-self experiences. When she steps back to her past, she totally reconnects, letting go of perspective and once again being the child she was. It is a remarkable performance.

Equally stunning is Alejandra C. Tobar as young Esperanza who is smart, sassy, kind, and searching to understand. She is believably innocent and exuberant as she encounters each new person and experience, while visibly gaining wisdom and giving life to a growing awareness that she is destined for a life beyond the confines of Mango Street.

All six members of the ensemble do outstanding work and, with assistance from Trevor D. Bowen's well-conceived costuming, are always able to keep the audience informed as they glide from one character to another. While all deserve praise, Sarah Broude makes an especially strong impression capturing the stirring mixture of pride and regret as Esperanza's mother.

Seitu Jones' stage design uses the Boss' thrust stage to great effect, with a narrow open swath running at an angle from down to upstage forming Mango Street, and platforms in the rear, left and right sides, serving as various locales. Michael P. Kittel's lighting effectively establish the moods and focuses attention to particular areas of the playing space.

The House on Mango Street is both a very specific window into a culture, and a universal story. The use of music, dance, styles and Spanish phrases pin Esperanza's story firmly to the Latino experience, but similar stories can be told about all communities of people who arrive as outsiders and establish a base in which to be themselves while they learn what other possibilities life can offer.

The House on Mango Street fills the Boss Thrust Stage with joy, tenderness, and insight. It is a terrific launch for a beautiful new performing space.

The House on Mango Street continues at Park Square Theatre Boss Thrust Stage through November 9, 2014. 20 West Seventh Place, Saint Paul, MN, 55102. Tickets from $38.00 —58.00; under 30, $19.00; seniors (62+) $5.00 discount. For tickets call 651-291-7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org

Writer: Sandra Cisneros; Adapted by Amy Ludwig; Director: Dipankar Mukherjee; Set Designer: Seitu Jones; Costume Designer: Trevor D. Bowen; Lighting Designer: Michael P. KIttel; Sound Designer: Anita Kelling; Properties Designer: Abbee Warmboe; Stage Manager: Wayne Hendricks

Cast: Indira Addington (Ensemble), Pedro R. Bayón (Ensemble), Sarah Broude (Ensemble), Adlyn Carreras (Older Esperanza), Cameron Cylkowski (Ensemble), Marcos Lopez (Ensemble), Stephanie Ruas (Ensemble), Alejandra C. Tobar (Young Esperanza).


Photo: Petronella J. Ytsma


- Arthur Dorman


Also see the season schedule for the Minneapolis - St. Paul region


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