The Travel Show is NEXT WEEK! Incredible giveaways, show only deals, kid’s activities, food and beverage sampling, and so much more!

'El Hurácan' A Storm-Tossed Family Drama At Yale Rep

Yale Rep treats new plays well — scripts that many theaters would fob off with readings or bare-bones productions are given grand treatment at the Rep.

For the premiere of “El Hurácan,” Charise Castro Smith’s multi-generational drama of a family rocked by storms both meteorological and emotional, scenic designer Gerardo Díaz Sanchez has created a seismic swirl of circular platforms surrounded by giant screens on which are projected ocean waves and blown-down trees.

The show is studded with magical illusions, larger-than-life images and tricky lighting. A house setting emerges from beneath the stage. After a while, much of this useful excess gets stripped away to the essential actors carrying the story, and it’s a more profound shift due to how built-up everything has been up to that point.

You could forgive those who would deliver this talky, intimate, human-sized drama in scaled-down small-theater terms. But the grandiose production at the Yale University Theatre, through Oct. 20, suits Smith’s script well. Its outbursts are grand, its passions vibrant. It’s also a play about how easily things can all get wiped away.

Another thing the Rep realizes: This is a story about Cuban-American culture in tempest-tossed Miami. The show is framed accordingly. The pre-show “turn off your cellphones” announcement is bilingual, with the Spanish version coming first. Chunks of the play’s dialogue are delivered in Spanish, untranslated. The pop standard “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” is sung in Spanish in its entirety.

Smith underscores the cultural identity of the play by having one of its central characters, a rebellious young woman named Miranda, settle in the decidedly different climes of Cambridge, Mass. She has seemingly escaped, but storms draw her back.

“El Hurácan” centers around the damage wrought by two hurricanes: Hurricane Andrew in August 1992 and the fictitious Hurricane Penelope of 2019.

This is a play of big metaphors, and the hurricanes are the least of it. An elderly woman (neatly embodied by the twinkly eyed Adriana Sevahn Nichols) experiences memory loss and limited mobility, so she escapes to memories of her youth, when she was a magician. Her long-deceased sister Alicia (Jennifer Paredes, evincing the bright-eyed pin-up pictures of yore) represents a similar freedom, wearing a colorful swimsuit and frolicking in the ocean.

More things to do »

When college student Miranda (forthrightly played by Irene Sofia Lucio) fights with her mother Ximena (Maria-Christina Oliveras, tasked with making her silences as provocative as her loud outbursts), there is a large locked door between them.

“EL Hurácan” seems to gloss over what would be fascinating, and relevant, details about its characters, such as what motivated Miranda to attend Harvard and whether her mother had anything to do with that. We also miss multiple chapters in the relationships of the characters. Some scenes can be clunky, as when Miranda sustains a not very believably staged injury while flirting with a handsome young friend of the family, Fernando (played with boisterous boyishness by Arturo Soria, a Yale School of Drama acting student).

Most of the six actors take on multiple roles, some of them playing younger versions of characters played by other actors. We see two of the characters age nearly 30 years, in transformations done center-stage with stagehands handing them wigs and costumes. Some of these shifts are more effective than others, and some are downright confusing.

On the other hand, the playwright (who graduated from the acting program at the Yale School of Drama in 2010, where one of her early plays “Estrella Cruz [The Junkyard Queen]” got a splendid production at the Yale Cabaret) has crafted some indelible interactions that make up for many of the omissions and underwhelming moments. There is a seduction scene that is beautifully modulated to be a drunken whim for both participants, and presented to be utterly, unarguably consensual. That’s a tricky thing to write and stage these days.

For all its expressions of hatred and impatience and misunderstanding, “El Hurácan” is ultimately a story about love and family. Many vulnerabilities are exposed. We see the pluses and minuses of dogged determination and self-preservation. We see how families bond despite adversity, absence and absent-mindedness. We witness celebratory moments, including a marriage proposal, but hear of long periods of separation, devastating guilt and blinding anger.

You likely will never again see this play writ this large. It’s easy to submerge yourself in it and get carried along with its often extreme vignettes of family life.

El Hurácan by Charise Castro Smith, directed by Laurie Woolery, runs through Oct. 20 at the Yale University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m.; and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; plus a Wednesday matinee Oct. 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 to $99. 203-432-1234, yalerep.org.

Copyright © 2018, CT Now
41°