Regional Reviews: San Diego
Guadalupe in the Guest Room
One month after her daughter Claudia passed away from cancer, a Mexican mother living in Boston, Guadalupe (Gabriela Nielson), is grieving over her loss. She stays in the guest room of the house of her daughter and her white English-speaking former son-in-law Steve (Tom Steward). Although Guadalupe talks often about Claudia, Steve keeps his emotions at a distance and wants to move on from his wife's passing. One day Steve catches Guadalupe watching the Spanish series "Love Is Never Forgotten." As the show progresses, they begin to feel closer to each other.
Playwright Tony Meneses portrays the language barrier that exists between Guadalupe and Steve in an interesting manner. Whenever Guadalupe talks to others in her native tongue (almost every word onstage is in English), she is expressive and articulate, but when talking to Steve, she has a limited vocabulary. He also pokes fun and honors the different tropes and conventions of a typical telenovela. While the soap opera scenes are meant to be a bit ridiculous, Meneses shows the positive impact that "Love Is Never Forgotten" makes to the central relationship. The care that Guadalupe and Steve eventually have for each other is richly portrayed by Nielson and Steward.
Nielson and Steward touchingly play good individuals who are adjusting to the tragedy that continues to affect their lives. Nielson shows how differently Guadalupe behaves when she's speaking Spanish or English. When Nielson talks in Spanish, Guadalupe is graceful and cordial, but isn't always able to express herself as much when speaking English. Through his interactions with Guadalupe, Steward depicts many different sides of the widower, from calm and collected to surprisingly vulnerable. Although both characters come across as approachable people, there are a few brief moments of anger and sadness that are almost too real to experience. While these sequences don't take up a lot of the 90-minute runtime, the stars are devastating to watch in the darker moments. Rounding out the cast are Ciarlene Coleman and Daniel Novoa who play dual roles of the telenova characters and people close to Guadalupe. They are both hilariously over-the-top in the TV scenes, and grounded and warm opposite Nielson.
Associate Artistic Director Nadia Guevara immediately draws audiences in with a sad montage that silently showcases the loneliness that Guadalupe and Steve feel after Claudia's passing. Tanya Orellana's set might represent Steve's home, but Guevara finds unique ways to transport theatregoers to a variety of different locations, such as a Mexican restaurant and the world of the television program. Her crewmembers are equally creative in the Boston and telenovela sequences. Curtis Mueller's lighting and Carmen Amon's costumes feel true in depicting normal days in Boston, and their contributions bring a lot of authentic Mexican flavor whenever "Love Is Never Forgotten" is on TV. With the exception of an oddly placed use of John Williams' theme to Schindler's List in an episode of the serial drama, TJ Fucella's audio fits with both the fantasy and reality situations.
Despite dealing with bleak subject matter, this interpretation of the play is an uplifting one with laughs and tears. Guevara's production is one of the most powerful plays that NVA is presenting this year.
Guadalupe in the Guest Room through October 28, 2018, at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St, Carlsbad CA. Performs Sundays through Saturdays. Tickets start at $33.00 and can be purchased online at www.newvillagearts.org or by phone at 760-433-3245.