Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Laughs in Spanish
Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Review by Nancy Grossman


Ireon Roach, Jackie Davis, and Adrian Abel Amador
Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
Playwright Alexis Scheer gets in touch with her Latin roots and mines the Miami arts scene for her new play Laughs in Spanish, a contemporary comedy about mothers and daughters, being an artist, and how to define success on your own terms. With pink neon, the sounds of surf and shore birds, and Gloria Estefan rhythms thumping in the background, the design team provides the necessary ambience to evoke the Wynwood Arts District in Miami during the highly anticipated Art Basel annual show.

Sara Katzoff directs this 80-minute play with a light and airy touch, blending one scene into the next with the actors relocating set pieces and furniture while dancing on and off the stage. Scheer establishes conflict at the start when Mari (Krystal Hernandez) discovers a theft of paintings from the gallery she runs, and she turns her ire on her assistant Caro (Ireon Roach), blaming her for not locking up the night before. However, Caro's boyfriend Juan (Adrian Abel Amador), a local cop, is on the scene to investigate and play peacekeeper. Caro's solution to the problem of blank walls is to suggest that Mari display her artwork, but Mari is not thrilled with the idea of hanging the paintings of an unknown in place of those of a renowned artist.

The next problem arrives in the person of Mari's flashy celebrity mother Estella (Jackie Davis), a movie star whose career has made her less than involved with her daughter. Mari doesn't have time to babysit her and views Estella's presence as a distraction and a headache, until her assistant shows up. Jenny (Madison Findling) and Mari greet each other like the long-lost friends (and more) they are, adding another wrinkle to the story. As the two women decide how to let their relationship evolve, Caro and Juan negotiate the next step in their romantic life, finding themselves at odds over principle versus practicality.

More attention is paid to the thorny mother-daughter connection as the independent Mari shows agitation, at a minimum, and unbridled resentment toward Estella's sudden interest and attention. Of course, Mom turns out to have an ulterior motive attached to her genuine desire to support her daughter, and it is fascinating to watch Hernandez handle this revelation because it is very similar to a scenario her character faced when she appeared last month in Miss You Like Hell at A.R.T.'s Oberon. (The situation was more realistic and credible in the latter.) However, the actors create tension in their relationship and, through their mannerisms and expressions, lend authenticity to the struggle they each have in trying to strike the right tone as they work toward eventual reconciliation.

Scheer's story has trouble maintaining a sharp focus, alternating between being a romantic comedy, of sorts, and exploring the definition of success as an artist as experienced by Mari, Caro and Estella. While going off on numerous tangents, the playwright leaves her characters underdeveloped, most of them sounding only one note. Amador and Roach establish a nice rapport together, and Findling does the best she can with the little she's given. Hernandez draws a distinctive picture of Mari that is greater than the sum of her parts. However, Davis gives the most compelling performance, organically sliding into her character and putting her internal life on display. Estella is the catalyst for several developments in the story, and Davis provides the necessary spark. Laughs in Spanish gives us a peek into the art world and some of its denizens, with a decidedly Latin flavor, but the gallery needs to put more on display.

Laughs in Spanish, through March 3, 2019, at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston MA. For tickets and information, call the box office at 866-811-4111 or visit www.bu.edu/bpt/.

Written by Alexis Scheer; Directed by Sara Katzoff; Scenic Design, Sean Perreira; Lighting Design, Hannah Solomon; Sound Design, Stephanie Lynn Yackovetsky; Costume Design, Chloe Chafetz; Intimacy Coordinator, Yo-El Cassell; Dialect Coach, Charles Linshaw; Dramaturg, Ally Sass; Stage Manager, Marsha Smith; Assistant Stage Manager, Madison Lusby; Assistant Director, Bea Perez-Arche; Assistant Scenic Design, Christa Tausney; Production Manager, Jeffrey Petersen

Cast: Krystal Hernandez, Jackie Davis*, Adrian Abel Amador, Ireon Roach, Madison Findling


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