Charise Castro Smith’s “El Huracán,” which is showing at the Yale Repertory Theatre, is a wonderful and heartfelt story that shows the struggles and pain experienced by those affected by severe illnesses as well as by their families. Additionally, it is a story of forgiveness, openness, and acceptance. With the direction of Laurie Woolery, the production is truly memorable.
Set in 1992, a Cuban-American family in southern Florida is preparing for the arrival of the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew. Valeria (Adriana Sevahn Nichols), a Cuban who immigrated to America during the Cuban Revolution, has Alzheimer’s disease, and her daughter Ximena (Maria-Christina Oliveras) has been taking care of her ever since her diagnosis. Miranda (Irene Sofia Lucio), who is Valeria’s granddaughter, is studying in the North East and comes down to Florida to help her mother and grandmother prepare for the hurricane’s imminent landfall. Due to her illness, Valeria randomly recalls and relives distant memories of her life before immigrating to America, which causes her to be completely unaware of her family on stage and her actual surroundings. The family observes the disease’s progression, and it brings much concern over Valeria’s health and well-being. Though the physical hurricane passes by Valeria’s house and eventually dissipates, a metaphorical hurricane takes place, due to unfortunate circumstances within the family, and persists for 27 years after Hurricane Andrew.
The story shifts to 2019, and Hurricane Penelope hits the Florida coast. It has been years since Valeria passed away, and Ximena inherits and lives in the ancestral house. Due to tensions that were seeded 27 years ago, Ximena and her daughter Miranda have distanced themselves from each other; however, Miranda comes back to Florida to help her mother with the hurricane’s aftermath.
The cast is absolutely phenomenal! In particular, Adriana Sevahn Nichols’s performance as Valeria is outstanding. With her constant shuffling around the stage, lost and confused, Nichols truly captivates the startling effects that Alzheimer’s can have on individuals. Additionally, her transitions from acting as if she is reliving a distant memory to coming back to reality is flawless; for during times when Valeria is engrossed in a memory, Nichols is animated and upbeat, and when the character returns to reality, Nichols immediately stops being excited and returns to wandering about the stage. The cast that Director Laurie Woolery have chosen is absolutely wonderful and perform amazingly.
Scenic Designer Gerardo Díaz Sánchez creates a stage that gives one the feeling of openness and emptiness. The minimal use of props and having most of those props placed in the center of the stage brings all the attention onto the center, making the surrounding background seem larger than it actually is. Also, in the second act, the background changes, and what the audience members see is the actual backstage of the theater serving as the background. Having the actual backstage of the theater as the background shows transparency between those in the production and the audience members, and at the same time, it alludes to the fading away of vision and backstory. Just as Alzheimer’s disease erases one’s memories and creates a void in one’s mind, the stage design of this production eventually erases some stage elements and creates a void. The design of the stage has a subtle yet profound meaning, and it perfectly complements the overall production.
With a great cast and set design, the production of “El Hurácan” makes one see and sense the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease on the family and the affected individual, and it makes one aware that this disease is truly a different type of hurricane, which storms in one’s mind and destroys everything in its path.
“el Hurácan” will be showing until October 20, 2018. For more information and/or to purchase tickets, please go www.yalerep.org or call (203)-432-1234.