Heartbeats are the first sounds we hear in “el Huracán,” Charise Castro Smith’s moving work of magic realism. This lyrical play of loss and love, having its world premiere at Yale Rep, heralds the arrival of a gifted new playwright who tells her story in a combination of Spanish and English. (But all is clear so there’s no need to take a language course.)
The setting is Miami, home to Cuban exiles. Valeria and Alonso, a married couple, had a successful magic act back in pre-Castro Cuba. Now, Valeria, a delusional abuela (grandmother), her mind riddled by Alzheimer’s, is being cared for by her daughter Ximena. With them, we travel that “river of memory,” that realm where past and present, time and tone, mesh.
Both periods are punctuated by hurricanes: one real and on its way (Andrew in 1992), one fictional and already gone (Penelope in 2019). Each storm is a harbinger of private woes, an untethering of mind and body. In outline, the play mirrors Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.,” in its quoting from that play, its characters, its quest for revenge and acceptance, blame and forgiveness
Ambling about, her mouth forever mumbling, Valeria brightens only whenever the ghost of her former husband materializes, and she recalls the joy of their magic act. Her daughter, Ximena, exhausted from caretaking and her preparation for Andrew is further troubled by her daughter, Miranda (also the daughter’s name in “The Tempest”). Yet, cleaning up debris in the aftermath of Penelope, plants the seeds of reconciliation.
Like “The Tempest,” also a play about revenge and forgiveness, nature vies with humanity. Sins and curses are inescapable and the gods punish by threatening to destroy their creations. “El Huracán” is reminiscent of a Greek or Elizabethan tragedy where we are but poor actors on life’s stage, puppets on God’s strings. Yet, we survive.
The metaphorical hurricanes, beautifully and frighteningly realized by the designers, demonstrate the need to go on, to pocket grievances at last. We prepare for the future; we recover from the past.
Directed by Laurie Woolery, with choreography by Angharad Davies, the plot-lite, “el Huracán” is an absorbing work. Produced in collaboration with the Sol Project, which is dedicated to supporting Latinx writers, it reflects the power of inclusiveness.
Adriana Sevahn Nichols is a moving Valeria, with Maria-Christina Oliveras a biting Ximena and Irene Sofia Lucio sensitive as the guilt-ridden but unbowed Miranda. Jennifer Pardedes is invigorating as the specter of Alicia, Valeria’s drowned sister, while Arturo Soria is engaging in several roles and Jonathan Nichol is a graceful Alonso.
Leavened with humor, the play’s bedrock sentiment is, “Love Is the only real magic. Although it is sometimes tricky, it is not a trick.” Neither is “el Huracán” a trick. Rather, it’s the real thing.