By Raquel V. Reyes
City Theatre brings the long-running Off-Broadway hit La Gringa to the studio stage at Adrienne Arsht Center. Carmen Rivera’s immersive bilingual full-length play directed by Gladys Ramíez is fresh and surprisingly topical. Or perhaps the better adjective is evergreen with its ‘ni de aquí, ni de allá’ theme that will resonate with so many second-generation Americans from Gen-X to Gen-Z. English and Spanish supertitles make the dual language dialogue accessible for those not fluent in both. Come prepared to laugh, cry, and ship this relatable Latinx story.
La Gringa opens strong with the high-energy arrival of Maria Elena (Emily Garcia Carrerou) to her family home in Puerto Rico. She has come from New York City to the island to find her Puerto Rican roots. The character is a Puerto Rican Day parade. She is proud, loud, and bombastic in her identity as a Boricua.
Her island relatives have a different opinion; to them, she is American—a Nuyorican at best.
Tia Norma (Talita Real) and Prima Iris (Analisa Velez) are especially hard on the earnest Maria. They side-eye each other with commentary about Maria’s flag jacket and incorrectly conjugated Spanish. As the story unfolds, we learn that their arm’s length love is due to an emotional scar between sisters Norma and Olga, Maria’s mother. The third sibling, Manolo (Carlos Orizondo), who has been housebound with an illness for five years, recovers his strength and zest thanks to Maria’s enthusiasm and helps heal the family’s misunderstandings.
There is so much ‘nailed it’ in this production that highlighting the standouts is impossible. Every element of the production has been thought out, from the ‘R to L’ Puerto Rican dialect and cadence (Vianca Collazo, dialect coach) to the sky-blue original color flag and Don Q bottle prop (Jodi Dellaventura and Natalie Taveras Rosario, scenic and property design) to the land acknowledgment. Darío Almirón’s costume design worked as it should—it felt authentic. Norma’s mismatched blouse and skirt style subtly represent the economic realities of sparse island life. An insert to the playbill provides a glossary and notes from dramaturg Karina Batchelor that will be helpful to audience members unfamiliar with Puerto Rico’s unique history.
There are so many loving details in this Miami premiere of La Gringa that it deserves repeat viewing. See it early, then see it again before the run closes.
The first half of the play is a sitcom/rom-com hybrid. There are running jokes like Norma’s husband, mechanic Victor, never having the right part to fix his car. Armando Acevedo plays the role with the buena gente goodness emblematic of the Puerto Rican character. The romantic elements of the comedy are light and sprinkled with an even hand. Mario Silva is perfectly cast as Maria Elena’s charming (and handsome) jibaro love interest Monchi.
The opening night audience was fully invested in their budding relationship and vocalized as such in communal wishes for the sweet couple to get together. While act two did not match act one’s incredible buoyant energy, that had more to do with the story than the acting.
The second half of La Gringa brings the drama and tragedy that is inevitable in a generational tale. But it is not all gloom. There are laughable lines and cultural gems that make the story’s conclusion enjoyable, such as the bomba scene wherein each character gets their chance to invent a verse with a punchline and a trip to visit Atabey’s altar (Taino mother/creator goddess) in the El Yunque rainforest.
La Gringa is the longest-running Spanish language play in Off-Broadway history at 27 years and still going. Playwright Carmen Rivera’s impressive list of recognitions includes an OBIE award for La Gringa and an HOLA award for Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz.
IYL (if you like), One Day at a Time (2017), ¿Qué Pasa USA?, or the song of the coquí then La Ginga is for you.
Raquel V. Reyes is the author of the award-winning Caribbean Kitchen Mystery series. Her latest novel is Barbacoa, Bomba, and Betrayal. Find her across social media as @LatinaSleuths and at www.LatinaSleuths.com
La Gringa, presented by City Theatre as part of Theater Up Close series, runs through Dec. 17 in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Running time 120 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sundays and on Saturday, Dec. 16. Tickets range from $55 to $60. Tickets may be purchased at the Adrienne Arsht Center box office by calling (305) 949-6722, or online at arshtcenter.org. Following each Friday performance, dramaturg Karina Batchelor will lead a post-show discussion. Featured guests will include artists from the production, delving into topics from the play, such as the art and culture of Puerto Rico, issues of identity and intersectionality, and the creative process behind bringing this story to the stage.