Theater review by Raven Snook
Quiara Alegría Hudes's impressionistic new play doesn’t try to adapt all 300 pages of My Broken Language, her 2021 book about growing up in an extended Philly Rican family. Instead, she picks a handful of pivotal moments from her coming-of-artist journey—learning how to cook her Abuela's rice, sharing fun- and fact-packed hangs with her older cousins, finding a lifeline in books and plays like for colored girls… (a clear influence)—and then directs a vibrant ensemble to make her prose sing. Unfolding on the thrust stage of Arnulfo Maldonado's alluring blue-tile set, which teems with flora and centers on a much-used stoop, the show feels more like a party than a play: a family photo album come to vivid, joyous life.
Hudes is best known for her stage works (which include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Water by the Spoonful and the musical In the Heights), and My Broken Language marks her return to theater after a self-imposed four-year exile. Hudes retains the lyrical style of her memoir—several entire passages are lifted directly from it—and infuses it here with dance and live music played by pianist Ariacne Trujillo Duran. Five performers embody her and her kin at different ages, switching comfortably among characters and tongues as the author finds her own voice. Longtime Hudes collaborators Zabryna Guevara and Daphne Rubin-Vega are standouts, transforming the narration-heavy storytelling into emotional arias.
Although some of her cousins meet tragic ends, Hudes doesn't dwell on their fates; she lovingly conjures and shares their souls. Edited to a whirlwind 90 minutes, her personal narrative does lose some of its supporting texture; there's not a word about her Jewish father and his second suburban family, and Hudes’s awakening as an artist is clearer than her sociopolitical evolution. Morsels of untranslated Spanish are sprinkled throughout, and a few sequences—such as the one about her mother's spiritual possession—feel confusing. But this seems by design. As she grows up, Hudes struggles to understand her place as she navigates two worlds, two cultures, two languages. Art is the key to her self-integration, and even if we don't grasp every detail, we're invited to witness her ritualistic tribute to the loved ones who shaped her.
My Broken Language. Signature Theatre. (Off Broadway). Written and directed by Quiara Alegría Hudes. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.