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16th Street Theater. By Andrea Thome. Directed by Ann Filmer. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
The Rodriguez family fled Chile in 1973 when the U.S.–backed General Pinochet overthrew the socialist government in a bloody coup; nine years later, they're living in the States despite their new country’s role in the destruction of their homeland. 16th Street Theater’s Pinkolandia, by Andrea Thome, is told from the perspective of the Rodriguez children (both played by adult actors) as they struggle to understand their family’s past. It’s not easy being socialist refugees when “It’s Morning in America”, and each girl turns to fantasy to safely explore the history their parents are so reluctant to speak of.
The play is two stories layered on top of each other. Our focus is on 12-year-old Beny’s (Maritza Cervantes) growing rebellion and sophomoric convictions as she discovers the political relationship of her two nations. But the second story is her parents' relationship with Chile, and like the children we must piece the truth together from imperfect and scattered information. Just as Beny and her younger sister Gaby (Hannah Gomez) use their imaginations to conjure a narrative for the family, their parents war over how to treat the past. Their father (Carlos Rogelio Diaz) still lives in the idealized fantasy of “revolution,” while their mother (Stephanie Diaz) insists that Chile is lost and they must embrace their new surroundings.
The combination honestly captures the divide between the adult and childlike reckoning of a family history, and the inability of children to comprehend trauma. The rules we learn growing up don’t cover lost wars, or enjoying freedom in the nation that helped destroy yours. Beny, desperate for her own truth, dives into oppression fantasies set in Nazi Germany where she exchanges her Chilean identity for a Jewish one. Gaby explores her isolation through a polar bear whose icy home shattered to pieces.
Pinkolandia has a tendency to become juvenile, focusing too much on the unlikable Benny and not delivering enough on the parents (and the effortless performances from the two Diazes). Cervantes is not believable as a 12-year-old, and in compensating with exaggerated mannerisms makes the already naive Beny irritating and unsympathetic. While it's difficult to anchor a play on a foolish character, a great deal about her rings true:the budding teenage mind that thinks it's “figured it out,” is ready to “fight the system,” and appropriates the genuine pains of her parents for her own glory.
The issue with this otherwise well-written play is that Beny’s naivete never gets the demolition it deserves. It feels like Thome pulled her punches at the last second. The family’s problems were set to explode, especially in a powerful moment when we see her father’s revolutionary bluster devolve to tears and guilt. I wanted to watch Beny learn a tough but valuable lesson about how little she understood. But sisterhood abruptly becomes the issue, the ending arrives peacefully, and I didn’t leave convinced that Beny grew up. 16th Street Theater delivers a colorful and original immigrant story of split generations that is also split by its own identity: two-thirds all-ages show and one-third adult performance. This is a great family play, but the adult in me needed that final reckoning that was never delivered.