Theater review by Helen Shaw
At first, the terrific solo show the way she spoke seems simple. The actress Kate Del Castillo enters the stage as herself. She shakes rain off her umbrella; she complains about the dearth of decent roles for Latina actors. She addresses the audience, but we eventually realize she’s talking to the playwright, Isaac Gomez, himself: As a favor, she has come to read her old friend’s diaristic play to him, paging through his script, losing her place occasionally and making notes.
Gomez, the play says, grew up on the U.S. side of the border town Ciudad Juárez, crossing frequently as a boy to visit cousins in Mexico. His associations with their side mostly involve affection and food. When he returns as a college student to do research for this play, though, he’s returning to a nightmare in which, for decades, the bodies of murdered women and girls have been found all over the city: piled up in cotton fields, hacked to pieces and left downtown, buried in their own backyards. He meets with mothers desperate for their children’s return; he interviews possible killers who laugh in his face.
The border between Del Castillo and Gomez is itself crossable—she says “I,” meaning Gomez, then becomes herself again to tut at him for some stylistic choice or other—and eventually his work begins to overwhelm her. Theater is often about distance: Pretending is the crux of theater’s subversion and power. But when an artist wants to talk about actual suffering, those old tools can become unwieldy, even unethical. How do you speak for others without stealing from them? Gomez’s play picks its way carefully among genres: It’s half memoir, half fiction, half documentary, half memorial. That’s too many halves—there’s too much play here. But that’s because there is no appropriate response other than surfeit of anguish, of pity, of rage. Del Castillo begins to tremble with all three, so much so that her scripted self rebels. the way she spoke bows down with grief, and chooses not to get up again.
Minetta Lane Theater (Off Broadway). By Isaac Gomez. Directed by Jo Bonney. With Kate Del Castillo. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.