The Phoenix Theatre’s participation in the National New Play Network is more than commendable. In Indianapolis, it’s borderline revolutionary to see so many new works given full, solid productions as part of a company’s regular season.
Equally bold is the Phoenix’s commitment to plays focused on Hispanic characters and its efforts to develop minority audiences.
“Guapa,” running through Jan. 20—and with performances in Spanish on the 19th and 20th, exemplifies all of that in one pleasurable package.
Here we have a new play by acclaimed-but-not-yet-breakout writer Caridad Svich that centers on a young girl with the dream—and perhaps the skill—to make it in professional women’s soccer. But this is far from a Disney Channel if-you-can-dream-it-you-can-do-it inspiration tale. It’s subtler than that. What’s holding her back isn’t some evil opposing coach, it’s her own self-image and the complex pressures of each of the members of a family she’s living with.
The play is at its most interesting when we are fully immersed in the world of single mother Roly (a radiant Patricia Castaneda), her children, the studious Pepi (Magdalena Remos) and angry LeBon (Guero Loco), and their adaptable cousin Hakim (Adrian Gomez). Their difficulty in getting any traction in their world is palpable, their internal conflicts truthful and fresh, and their problems compelling. The soccer/football passion of Guapa (an ideally cast Phebe Taylor) also plays well, although it isn’t quite believable that Roly would be resistant to her possibly success.
The play falters, though, by not allowing its characters to face conflicts and make choices that lead to the play’s conclusions. Much of the second act is built on random actions instead of characters making choices. A key plot point involves an accident, but the recovery—and the feelings it inspires—seem just as accidental. Too often Svich falls back on magic realism crutches (dream descriptions, etc) rather than allowing her characters to dramatically work their way through their conflicts.
Still, these are characters I wanted to spend more time with. And as much as I wished to know if Guapa made the big leagues, I wanted even more to know the fates of LeBon, Pepi and Hakim.
It seems unfair to push for a sequel before the original is polished, but if one gets written, I’d like to see it on the Phoenix stage.