Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sonia Flew"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Melinda Lopez
directed by Nicholas Martin

Sonia / Marta … Carmen Roman
Daniel / Tito … Jeremiah Kissel
Zak / José … Ivan Quintanilla
Jen / Young Sonia … Amelia Alvarez
Sam / Orfeo … Will LeBow
Nina / Pilar … Zabryna Guevara

A play receiving its world premiere in a spanking new theatre is an unbeatable combination --- an instant Event --- but the play must eventually take the lead. Melinda Lopez’s SONIA FLEW, debuting in the Virginia Wimberly Theatre at the new Calderwood Pavilion, ends the evening neck-and-neck with its environment, akin to THE LION KING’s celebration of life paralleling the reopening of the Opera House, several months ago.

Sonia, a middle-aged Cuban-American woman, is fiercely devoted to Daniel, her Jewish-American husband, and their children Zak and Jen, both at the college age. She has a longtime aversion to flying, linked to her being one of the “Pedro Pan” children of the 1960s who were separated from their families and flown out of Cuba for a better life, elsewhere; Sonia has yet to talk about her past, let alone return to her homeland (both her parents are long dead). Act One takes place during the Chanukah/Christmas holidays where Sonia is devastated to learn that Zak has enlisted following the attack on the World Trade Center. She erupts, declaring she will never forgive him, but Zak still heads overseas. Act Two is a lengthy flashback to Cuba circa 1961 where the teen-aged Sonia is one of Castro’s marching youths who become the property of the new regime; when her parents Sam and Pilar choose to put her on a Miami-bound plane rather than turn her over to a dictator, Sonia misinterprets their actions and declares she will never forgive them, not knowing that Sam has forfeited his life to save her. The play ends with Sonia taking the first steps towards making peace with both her son and her past. What sounds like a suspenseful, moving melodrama in synopsis plays cool and cerebral at the Pavilion for Ms. Lopez, like other playwrights before her, has bowed to a certain Mr. Chekhov and turned much of the action out-of-doors, concentrating, instead, on mood, “moments” and spotlit solos to the audience. Since young Sonia is written, directed and played as an uncomprehending pawn in a political chess game, Act Two becomes unglued to Act One as well as its own coda --- doesn’t a flashback’s narrative, by nature, belong to the person having it?

Director Nicholas Martin punches up SONIA FLEW every moment he can to prove the evening is really, really one of red-blooded drama and, indeed, there are pocketfuls of excellence, not the least being Ms. Lopez’s sharp, knowing dialogue which truly flies even if Sonia does not (how refreshing to witness mother-son confrontations, for a change, instead of anticipated mother-daughter ones). As with many mood pieces, the little moments prove more memorable than the big ones: the holiday preparations, the arrival of an elderly relative, the stunning moment when Zak’s chattering jeep-mate is awed at the beauty of a missile coming right at them (followed by the loudest blast ever heard through a sound system), the enjoying of pasteles (a Cuban pastry) around past and present tables (Proust had his madeleines; Sonia, her pasteles) and, finally, the young Sonia’s grim walk into a blue-sky future as her parents recede into their fate. Aside from Zabryna Guevara as the lovely, sensual Pilar, Mr. Martin's ensemble neither looks nor sounds particularly Cuban in Act Two, but they are Ms. Lopez's dedicated midwives nevertheless with Carmen Roman standing out as the likeable, haunted present-day Sonia, part hurricane, part eye of the storm. Ivan Quintanilla and Amelia Alvarez make a convincing brother-and-sister team, so much so that it’s a bit disconcerting to see them smooch it up as Act Two’s young Sonia and a potential sweetheart. Jerry Kissel doles out his performances sparingly and Boston theatre suffers as a result; here, he is simply amazing as the ever-patient Daniel, hanging ten on the killer waves provided by Sonia and Zak; his delivery of Daniel’s overlapping dialogue with himself, whether it be written that way, improvised or both, is performed the way a jazz musician noodles yet still makes perfect sense. Mr. Kissel is well-matched by Will Lebow as the evening’s two contrasted fathers; Mr. Lebow, so often subjected to A.R.T. pretensions, demonstrates what a sterling character actor he is when in warmer, more humane territory where the playwright, not the director or designer, is the honored guest.

Unlike the Huntington’s other production, GEM OF THE OCEAN, which is rattling about on the cavernous Boston University stage, SONIA FLEW settles quite nicely into the comparatively intimate Pavilion stage with its excellent sightlines and machinery (Adam Stockhausen’s wonderfully detailed settings slide forward and backwards like dollhouse interiors); its narrow auditorium seats leave something to be desired (you must elbow wrestle with your neighbors) but that’s a small price to pay --- Boston now has two new theatre spaces at its disposal (the SpeakEasy production of COMPANY is currently playing in the Roberts Studio Theatre, next door), the Opera House is once again in working order and the nearby Modern Theatre is due for the Lazarus touch, so the next order of business would be to…


"Sonia Flew" (8 October - 28 November)
Calderwood Pavilion, BOSTON CENTER FOR THE ARTS, 505 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 933-8600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide