Friday, January 15, 2016

Broken Promises—Milagro—SE Portland

Who Am I?

The world premiere of this drama is written by Olga Sanchez (Artistic Director Emerita for Milagro) and directed by Francisco Garcia.  It is a bilingual production and will be taken on tour after the play dates here.  It is presented at their site, 525 SE Stark St., through January 23rd (only street parking, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org or call 503-236-7253.

A question we must all ask ourselves at some point, who are we and what is our purpose in Life.  If we discover that at an early age, we will probably only encounter a minimal of angst when growing up.  But, if because of family circumstances, we are forced into a type of adulthood too early and must flounder to fend for ourselves, the outcomes may be less than normal, or we will have created a “new normal.”

Such is the case of the teenager, Adriana (Monica Domena), who is thrust into this world less than prepared.  Her family is broken and her mother gone.  Her father (Ajai Terrazas Tripathi) is struggling to keep bread on the table and has been abusing his daughter.  And she is now dealing with a new school and classmates.  Josefina (Shenekah Telles) at first is in conflict with her but soon becomes her friend and introduces her to her best buddies.

Esteban (Geo Alva) is a rebel and hates school, mistrusting all teachers, and adults, in general.  He also takes a “romantic” interest in her.  Raul (Tripathi, again) is free and easy and looking for the quick buck.  They all discover, “thanks” to the Internet, a simple way to makes some bucks cheaply, by making porn videos.  Adriana is looking for money to go to college so this seems a simple way out of her less than ideal home life.

But the path to a better world takes a nasty turn as the porn project gets out of hand.  Instead of a sideline in school, it takes over her world.  And the introduction to drugs and alcohol and other “partners” only compounds her problems.  What seemed like the yellow brick road to happiness is turning into a black spiral to a darker place.  I can’t tell you more without being a spoiler so will stop here.  But know that this is an honest but brutal depiction of teen life today, taken from dialogues with actual young people.

Sanchez pulls no punches with her script and, although it is short, about an hour long, it gets to the point quickly.  And, through the eyes of her characters, we can easily see how one can fall into the trap of dreaming of a better life but settling for “broken promises.”  Fittingly, there is no answer to this dilemma, as the struggle is ongoing and many are still enslaved in such a culture.  And the first step to freedom is, perhaps, the most difficult:  Admitting that there is a problem, then asking for help.

Garcia has an almost bare stage for his actors to create on.  Some of them play multiple characters and his sparse set and quick changes keeps the play moving at a brisk pace.  He also has adopted hip-hop, poetry and stylized movement to help convey the story, as its gives the play a type of surreal atmosphere.  All of this works to the story’s advantage and for a production that will be on tour, this simplification of space gives a sense of accessibly for the message to blend or contrast with the reality of the audience’s take on Life.

Tripathi, in his multiple roles, was amazing to watch, as I actually thought it was a different actor in each incarnation.  Telles gives us a character so caught up in the free and easy world that she is only able to see the harm it may be doing when she befriends the lead character.  Then, she too, must question her lifestyle.  Alva has the thankless job of portraying the villain of the piece.  But villains are not so cut and dry, as they must believe they are right.  He convinces me he believes.  All three of these young actors are energetic and persuasive in the roles they play.  Well done.

But Domena is even a cut above them, as she has the unenviable role of letting us see the plight from whence she comes, to the heartfelt desire to pull herself out of the pits, to the heartbreaking reality of only sinking deeper down into the abyss.  It would seem at the outset this type of transformation would be impossible but in her capable hands she pulls it off.

Much of what she is doing as an actor is underplaying the role which is exactly the right choice.  You feel with her the pain and humiliation of her station in life and the vulnerability it exposes in her.  You also sense the strength through the tears of who she is and have hope for her.  Domena is an attractive young lady but has a natural beauty, not artificial with loads of make-up, so that you can emphasize with her and know she is “real.”  She plays the character with a subtle, focused air and your heart goes out to her.  She has made all the right choices in this portrayal and it works.  She has talent beyond her years and I hope to see more of her onstage in the future!

And what is the cause and the answer to the growing anxiety of Youth and, in this case, child pornography and prostitution?  Although the Social Media may not be the only cause, it certainly does not help.  My friend Dave and José González (Executive Director and Founder of Milagro) were talking after the show and agreed that the problems Youth face today have always been there, it is just more pronounced now with the advent of the Internet.  Also, we all agreed that these are the future leaders of our World and things need to change.  Maybe this play will help with that transition.

My own solution is to see that Youth have a safe place to vent their concerns and express their dreams, such as the Arts, whether it’s theatre, music, painting, writing, dance. et. al.  I, personally, have seen lives changed in Youth by being involved with theatre projects.  So my advice to parents, is to get your young ones involved with some sort of artistic endeavor, and to the public education system, shame on you for cutting or demoting the Arts in our school system.  You have no idea how it builds confidence, character, and teamwork in people.  And, so I say to the staff, crew and cast of this show and Milagro, specifically, thank you for growing our Youth.  “What [we] sow, so shall [we] reap.”

This is adult subject matter but is tastefully done.  I recommend it.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.