Reviewed by Marc Wheeler
The monstrous myth of La Llorona (”The Weeping Woman”) is resurrected anew in this mostly lackluster and problematic offering by playwright Matt DeNoto and director Kathryn Mayer at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Many variations of the Hispanic legend exist, although the most common and simple tells of a mentally disturbed woman who drowns her children and is forced post-death to wander the earth and find them in order to gain entrance into heaven. “¡Ay, mis hijos!” (“Oh, my children!”), she grievously wails in torment as she eternally roams swamps, lakes and rivers, in vain, kidnapping living children she mistakes for her own — children who, parents often warn, are disobedient or wander off.
Note to all children: Be good or La Llorona will get you!
Note to all theatergoers: Be bilingual or you won’t get about half of La Llorona.
Told in alternating scenes of centuries-old, Spanish-speaking Mexico and present-day, English-speaking America, the play unnecessarily creates frustration for the many unprepared or singularly-fluent audience members for whom no translations are given. (Disclaimers should be clearly visible for all ticket sales). While one can make out broad strokes of unfamiliar tongue, details will surely be missed — not that that’s always a bad thing. DeNoto’s hit-and-miss script attempts to flesh out the infamous folk tale through a somewhat comedic yet sordid retelling, although children playing with their mother’s dildo and dropping f-bombs isn’t the most desirable means of modernization. Nor is casting 20-somethings to play 5-to-11-year-olds effective (despite one scene of mother-to-son ball-grabbing for which an older actor is more appropriate). It’s next-to-impossible to pull off and be taken seriously, especially with age-inappropriate, unbelievable dialogue. The four youngest actors give it their best, though, to varying degrees of success.
On the plus side, Martina Medina as María gives a passionate and captivating performance as the Weeping Lady, devolving from amorous maiden to murderously-mad mommy. Guillermo Garcia, too, gives a stellar and heartbreaking performance in his one-night-only role of Valentino (typically played by Joaquin Camilo), the rugged, womanizing and tormented husband of our villainess.
Dolores Quintana as Lupe, our modern-day mother of those aforementioned naughty children, struggles through the lines she can remember, often stalling her many scenes with bad line-readings that would make John Waters proud (were this “Pink Flamingos”) before her many scampers offstage. Abel Horwitz is disappointingly cartoonish in his performance of Eduardo, aka “Uncle Eddie.”
Kelly Jonske is stage manager. Caroline Montes is choreographer. Producers are Kathryn Mayer and Matt DeNoto.
While a few moments actually succeed in delivering unnerving chills, DeNoto’s La Llorona sadly drowns in its more prevalent misses.