Review: EL TERREMOTO (Earthquake)

by Lynn on April 7, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Tarragon Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont. Playing until April 21, 224.

Written by Christine Quintana

Directed by Guilermo Verdecchia

Set by Shannon Lea Doyle

Costumes by Fernando Maya Meneses

Lighting by Michelle Ramsay

Sound by Alejandra Nuñez

Co-sound designer,Christopher-Elizabeth

Projection designer, Samay Arcentales Cajas

Cast: Miranda Caleron

Mónica Garrido Huerta

Sam Khalilieh

Caolán Kelly

Rosalba Martinni

Mariló Núñez

Michael Scholar Jr.

Margarita Valderrama

Juan Carlos Velis

Wild, bold and imaginative, but another pass is needed to tighten and develop character.

Luz is planning a 21st birthday party for her youngest sister Lina—a university student. The family is invited: Rosa, a bitter woman who we learn later is a successful architect; There is Abuela, grandmother in Spanish who lives with Luz and Lina; Omar, the next door neighbour who takes care of his aged father; Henry, who drops by and is a friend of Rosa, and finally Lina who arrives with her friend Tash, but is hesitant to bring them to meet the family.The dynamic is established immediately. Almost nobody wants to be there because they all have issues.

Luz is anxious that tradition be followed and that means there is a 21st birthday party for the person turning 21 and she bakes her famous cake and sets out a table full of food. Rosa arrives with the chip on her shoulder towards her sister, firmly intact. She doesn’t want to be there and thinks the idea is silly. She can barely contain her anger at being there. Luz answers Rosa’s invective with a barb of her own. Omar is happy for respite from taking care of his aged father. Henry is a little jumpy. He was in a relationship with Rosa but married someone else and now they have children and that takes up his time. Lina arrives and her frustration at being there precedes her through the door as she leaves Tash outside to wait on the steps. Only Abuela is a calm presence. The three sisters are her family and she loves them, moods and all. She is the one who notices Tash is sitting outside on the steps. Tash is invited in and is charming to everybody.

I get the sense that the death of their parents’ years before might have been the cause of the unease. The mother suffered from bouts of depression and there was a mystery about how both parents died. Rosa resents her older sister Luz for being a take-charge person. She is a professor at the university and runs the house in a precise way and perhaps Rosa resents it even though Rosa doesn’t live there anymore. And Lina seems to pine in the absence of her parents who she doesn’t seem to remember. And she’s anxious about how Tash will be accepted by her family. Lina longs to know her Mexican roots. When she was younger Abuela used to talk to her in Spanish all the time but stopped, so Lina does not really know the language of her parents or grandmother.

I know there are three sisters and one immediately thinks of Chekhov, but Christine Quintana puts her own spin on the story and references her own Mexican roots and culture.

Do the matters get resolved? I would more accurately call it ‘explained’ rather than resolved. Christina Quintana has written a bold, wild play because of what happens in Act II. Act I just seems like a lot of raging for no reason—I know we must have patience and hope that Act II will resolve things. But Act I seems a litany of hurts and accusations like ticking boxes of concerns without a hint of the reasons. I longed for some character development in Act I. Act I ends with the earthquake that almost levels everything for ACT II and the explanation.

Act II seems a mix of Day of the Dead (a specific date when Mexicans remember and celebrate the memory of their dead family and friends), and Deus ex Machina….when a play has an artificial ending to resolve conflict and solve problems. I hesitate to detail what happens because it is such a surprise of the play.  So I’ll leave it there.

It’s a bold move by playwright Christine Quintana to conjure this dramatic event—the earthquake—to get the family and friends to talk to each other and express what they are feeling and experiencing. It’s just that it feels contrived, which it is, and therefore rather false. Everybody gets to tell their story in Act II as if the Earthquake has opened the world and let out their pain. I think the play needs another pass to tighten up the flabby bits about character and situation.

This does not diminish the play. I like Christine Quintana’s writing. I like the boldness of melding the Mexican celebration of the dead with a dash of Greek theatricality, all at the mercy of a fierce earthquake in British Columbia—where the sisters now live. That illuminates an impressive imagination. I also like that Abuela, a calming presence, speaks almost always in Spanish, and with gesture and nuance we understand what she is trying to convey (if we don’t speak Spanish). She knows English and it’s always a surprise and a twist when she speaks it. That too is illuminating. And there is a wonderful speech in Act II from Tash to Lina that is terrific.

Tash is watchful and open-hearted. Lina is self-absorbed and perhaps selfish Tash would have noticed that.  The speech is true and comes from an honest place. All these characters want is to be happy and settled.

The set by Shannon Lea Doyle is quite wonderful. It is Luz’s house and it’s neat and comfortable looking. It’s furnished so that it looks like company is welcome, lots of comfy chairs and tables for drinks etc.  The book shelves are loaded with books.

And when the earthquake hits we see the destruction of the place in Act II—that’s impressive too. And the sound of the rumbling earthquake shakes the theatre. Kudos to co-sound designers, Alejandra Nuñez and Christopher-Elizabeth

There is a photo/portrait of the dead parents in a warm embrace on the wall so we get a sense that perhaps they are the dearly departed parents. Guillermo Verdecchia has directed the production with care and attention to detail.

As Luz, Mariló Núñez is efficient, tense and forces herself to be cheerful, although she is anxious that the party work out. She knows how fraught these events can be for her family. And we sense that she is bracing for fireworks, certainly from Rosa (Miranda Calderon). As Abuela, Rosalba Martinni has the confidence of a wise woman who has seen it all and accepts the world, but wants her children to be happy. As Tash Caolán Kelly has an easy charm of a person trying to fit in to this family.  As Rosa, Miranda Calderon, and Margarita Valderrama as Lina would do well not to push their words so much—it makes the delivery choppy.

Christine Quintana writes a story referenced by her Mexican roots, but it will have resonance no matter what background you are.

Tarragon Theatre presents:

Runs until April 21, 2024

Running time, 2 hours 20 minutes (1 intermission)

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