by Beki Pineda
GUADALUPE IN THE GUEST ROOM – Written by Tony Meneses; Directed by James Bruenger-Arreguin. Produced by the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College (30 West Dale St, Colorado Springs) through October 24. Tickets available at 719-634-5581 or fac.coloradocollege.edu.
Occasionally as a theatre-goer, you get thrown a pleasant little surprise. That happened to me the first time I saw LION KING in 2002 and discovered that one of the young actors I had known from the Shakespeare Festival was playing Zazu, the hornbill, on the first national tour. Jeff Binder showed his gifts with comic timing as he manipulated a tall two-part puppet with an attitude.
The same sort of pleasant jolt happened when I journeyed to the FAC to see this production and discovered that it had been directed by Jamas Bruenger, a recent graduate of the Denver School of the Arts and someone I had watched grow up in the arts. He was always one of those kids you knew was going to go places. It pleases me no end to learn that James (no one knew who I was talking about when I asked if Jimmy was there that night – so he has apparently graduated out of that nickname as well) has just gotten a great new job with the Disney Theatrical Group. Rock on, James.
The play that evening chronicles the difficulties of grief when forced to be shared by the mother and husband of the deceased. Claudia’s mother had come from Mexico to help care for her daughter and stayed on after her death to translate from Spanish to English a series of children’s books she had written. Guadalupe is living in uncomfortable silence with her equally grieving son-in-law Steve. She avidly watches a melodramatic telenovela that quickly hooks Steve into its over-the-top acting and improbable plot. Gradually they begin to understand each other linguistically and emotionally. Guadalupe develops a friendship with the gardener while Steve begins to notice with interest the friend Raquel who is helping Guadalupe with the translation.
A simple plot that is enhanced by the visualization of the corny TV program acted out in the living room as Guadalupe and Steve happily watch and munch popcorn. The stereotypical TV characters are portrayed by the same actors playing the gardener and the friend in equally over-the-top costumes and wigs. A clever devise that adds humor and ultimately salvation to a poignant set of circumstances.
Elise Santora’s Guadalupe is a dignified quiet orderly mother; she has a strong sense of appropriateness and a whimsical sense of humor. Elise conveys these traits with authenticity and grace. Colton Pratt as Steve epitomizes with energetic anger the confusion and mood swings of those in grief. Frustrated by his mother-in-law’s presence and his inability to communicate with her, he lashes out. His embarrassed apologies for a number and variety of transgressions ring true and are expressed as much in facial expression as in words from the script. As he gradually evolves into an acceptance of and friendship with Guadalupe and Raquel, he becomes funny and more human.
Lilli Hokama and Miguel Nunez take on the complicated multiple roles required to tell this story. Lilli plays the sympathetic colleague of Claudia who is helping with the translation, offering solace to Guadalupe and friendship to Steve. In the telenovela, she also plays Aurelia, the seductress held captive by her own emotions (Mio dios!!), AND her own blind sister, also named Claudia. Miguel takes on the role of the gentle gardener who opens emotional doors and possibilities for Guadalupe while also jumping wholeheartedly into two roles in the telenovela – Jose Fernando and Bernardo – both lover and villain. Their scenes together as they roam the living room acting out the TV script provide lighthearted moments and silliness.
The two-story set with bedrooms upstairs and living room and partial kitchen downstairs supports the production by providing multiple acting spaces, privacy for the actors when needed, and a great staircase which gets used a lot by the Mexican TV actors. Tanya Orellana, the scenic designer, gave the actors plenty of room to move in this highly physical production. Kudos to COFAC for finding Hispanic designers, management, and cast members authentic to the spirit of the production.
A WOW factor of 8.5!!