The House on Mango Street is a touching story at Cara Mia Theatre
by Christopher Soden
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is the story of 12-year-old Esperanza Cordero, a daughter in a large Mexican America family that has just moved to their first house. After a succession of rentals, they have finally gotten a place that’s theirs, though it’s not everything they’ve hoped for. Mango Street is run down, and their home is pretty small, with only a single bathroom. The brothers keep to themselves when they’re in public (as brothers often do) and the dad works so hard Esperanza barely sees him,because he leaves home so early and returns so late.
Adapted by Amy Ludwig, The House on Mango Street is told in a series of key vignettes, like the novel. Narrated by Esperanza as an adult, in tandem with herself in the past, we see how the grown-up soothes wounds that have never healed. Esperanza makes dubious choices, going with intuition rather than rational thinking. She doesn’t judge others. She takes up another girl’s offer of buying her friendship for three dollars. She befriends a woman who is clearly not in her right mind, though certainly harmless. She and her siblings play in the garden of a recently abandoned house. More often than not, these unorthodox decisions work out in her favor, enriching her life in unexpected ways. Like the line from Frost’s “Two Roads Diverged” she takes the road less traveled by, and it makes all the difference in the world.
Mango Street overflows with intriguing and strange details of Mexican culture, unlike often ridiculous depictions, with spontaneous dancing, pinatas and alcohol abuse. We see the male dominated homes, the magic of spells and fortune telling woven into everyday life, the eccentricities that are tolerated and often celebrated. Latinx characters arrive from other parts of the world, sometimes dropping off the grid with no practical way to for their relatives to track them down. They virtually and permanently vanish. Women fall prey to the uglier impulses of fathers, husbands and boyfriends. In many ways the mysterious and inexplicable are taken as a given, rather than dwelled upon.
The curious (and glorious) aspect of Esperanza’s worldview is embracing the traumatic with the sublime. The grotesque with the enchanted. She finds astonishing moments in simple adventures like riding a used bicycle with her new girlfriends, or wearing glamorous high heels discarded by an older woman, or joyriding in a fantastic car a cousin has boosted. Mixed with this are episodes such as reading to a blind aunt, who is barely hanging on to life, a friend who’s dad is obviously abusing her, and a guy at the fairgrounds who forces himself on her, shattering her cherished ideas of exquisite, tender romance. Throughout this powerful drama, Esperanza never succumbs to the deeply troubling events that we all seem doomed to endure, in one guise or another. Her unique perception becomes an accidental survival technique, that carries her over to adulthood.
Director David Lozano orchestrates a gifted and emotionally invested ensemble cast: Ana Armenta, Lulu Ward, Cheyenne Raquel Farley, Christina Austin Lopez, Celeste Perez, Matthew Roy Rodriquez, Victor Santos, Kevin Solis, put in the demanding position of portraying multiple characters of varying ages, occupations, and dispositions. Mediums, monsters, lunatics, pilferers, the naive and the jaded, are realized with shading, irony and authority; shifting gears with flexibility and finesse. Kenneth Verdugo’s Scenic Design, laden with clothesline, tin roof, crumbling brownstone and stoop, is dead on in its evocation of Esperanza’s neighborhood. The music composed and directed by S-Ankh Rasa is percussive, jarring and often brilliant, adding color and depth to content.
Cara Mia Theatre presents The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, playing: February 21st – March 8th, 2020. Cara Mia Theatre is located at 2600 Live Oak Street, Dallas, Texas 75204. 214-671-0045. For tickets, visit caramiatheatre.org.