Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
It's even more taboo for Ismelda, but she hides why until family secrets come spilling out in Don't Eat the Mangos, by Ricardo Pérez González, which just opened in a rolling world premiere production at San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Ismelda's sisters, Yinoelle (Elena Estér) and Wicha (Marilet Martinez), occasionally help care for Papi (the almost unrecognizable Julian López-Morillas) and Mami (a forceful and focused Wilma Bonet), but most of the burden falls on big sister Ismelda.
The action takes place in a suitably dilapidated set by Tanya Orellana, with a beat-up electric stove at the heart of a grimy kitchen, rusted iron gates, laundry on a line, and a mango tree dripping with fruit that will remain uneaten. (Until it is. In a shocking and shimmering moment.)
There's a (far) Southern Gothic feel to the setting, and one could imagine productions of The Night of the Iguana or Sweet Bird of Youth being staged in it. There's more than a little resemblance to some of Tennessee Williams' plays in Don't Eat the Mangos as well: not only the steamy tropical setting, but also the familial disappointments, the sibling conflicts still simmering from childhood, and the Catholic guilt and shame that pervades his work.
Don't Eat the Mangos lacks Williams' poetic flair, but Pérez González compensates with vibrant, energetic dialogue (some of it in Spanish) that sizzles like the onions Yinoelle cooks, and whose aromas delightfully waft (at least they did as far my seat) into the theater. Even when the sisters fling profanity (some of the worst of which is left un-translated), there's still a sense of something more than filial dutythough there's plenty of that being fulfilledthat binds them. It's on the page in Pérez González's script, and the three actresses amplify the way they, despite the sort of old grudges siblings often hold on to, deeply care for each other. It's almost as if every "fuck you" is a way of saying, "I speak like this to you to prove my connection with you. Only we can speak in this way to each other."
The talking is in service of a story that is tragic from the very first line: "Te toca a ti." "It's your turn." Your turn, perhaps, to change your father's diaper. Soon enough we see Mami return from her chemo appointment. (When Ismelda asks how it was, she pinches out "Most fun I've had in ages.") So three daughtersor will it be only two soonto do what needs to be done? But when those secrets behind these rather ordinaryif devastatingevents are finally unleashed, it will explain volumes of how this family got to where it is. And it's all happening post Hurricane Maria.
Despite the suffering being borne by his characters onstage, Pérez González (with direction by David Mendizábal) is able to express their experience in ways that make Don't Eat the Mangos entertaining to watch, without diluting the drama.
Don't Eat the Mangos runs through March 22, 2020, at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, 2 Marina Boulevard, Building D, 3rd Floor, San Francisco CA. Performances are Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15-$75 and are available online at MagicTheatre.org, by phone at 415-441-8822, or in person at the box office, which is open Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Saturday one hour prior to curtain.