Thursday, October 11, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "Kita y Fernanda" at Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company

“Kita y Fernanda” a Spellbinding Success:
Four Phenomenal Actresses.  Two Languages.  One Powerful Play.
By Donnie Matsuda

While there are no visible lines drawn anywhere on the Mo`olelo stage, “Kita y Fernanda,” the final play in the socially-conscious theatre company’s 2012 season, has a lot to say about living life on two different sides of a border.   

Gabriela Trigo and Cynthia Bastidas.  Photo by Crissy Pascual.
Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that the play begins in a large crowd – a Chicago rally for immigrant rights – in which we meet the title characters of the play, Kita and Fernanda, as adult 30-somethings just trying to “fit in” to the American way of life while still fighting for the rights of those outsiders on the “other” sides of our national borders.  After decades apart, these two women finally see each other, or at least they think they see each other, but ultimately get lost in the crowd and don’t connect.  On the surface, it seems like a trite way to begin a poignant play about two girls’ sweeping bicultural journey from childhood friends to more cynical, knowing adults.  But when we finally see how this remarkable journey finally ends, in a gripping final scene that will tear at your heart and leave you in tears, it all makes complete sense.   

Olivia Espinosa and Cynthia Bastidas.  Photo by Crissy Pascual.
While Kita and Fernanda appear to share quite a bit – they are both Mexican nationals living in the U.S. with mothers who don’t speak a word of English – we begin to see they couldn’t be more different.  As we constantly flashback from the modern-day rally to various scenes in their childhood, we get more than just a few glimpses into the many borders that divide them.  Fernanda (a dynamic Gabriela Trigo) is the privileged daughter of a rich Mexican family living in McAllen, Texas, who believes in the power of learning English, the importance of fitting in, and the essential commodity of blinged-out Barbie dolls.  While she and her overly medicated and agoraphobic mother Doña (a polished and poised Melba Novoa) are legal immigrants, they remain trapped as prisoners in their lavish Texas mansion – a simple plywood box set by scenic designer David F. Weiner – without any connection to the outside, English-speaking world.  Their only link to humanity is through their live-in maid, a poor, undocumented immigrant named Concha (a warm Olivia Espinosa, who does triple duty as hilarious Valley girl Jessica and stoned out beach bum Chela) and her daughter, Kita (a courageous Cynthia Bastidas).  Kita, of course, is a fierce firecracker who is proud of her hard-working, Spanish-speaking heritage and pooh-poohs the Barbies in favor of Cabbage Patch dolls.

Through the course of their difficult and divided friendship, Kita and Fernanda do share a number of funny and heartfelt moments.  That’s largely due to the perfectly poignant writing of playwright Tanya Saracho, who knows how to capture the essence of her four characters with equal parts humor and humanity.  True, there is a significant amount of dialogue in Spanish (about a third of the play, with one entire scene exclusively “en Español”), but thanks to Seema Sueko and Robert Castro’s smart and sensitive direction, it is easy to surrender to the Spanish and still understand exactly what is going on.  And, if there are still some scenes that leave you a little lost, well, that is part of the playwright’s point: to put us in the shoes of the outsider and make us feel the uneasiness and confusion of being a non-English speaking minority in America.

Cynthia Bastidas and Gabriela Trigo.  Photo by Crissy Pascual.
At the end of the play, there’s a lot to think about.  And in Mo`olelo’s beautifully crafted and brilliantly acted production, there’s also a lot to admire and enjoy.  “Kita y Fernanda” is an experience like no other: it is a whirlwind journey that will sweep you off your feet, tug relentlessly at your heartstrings, make you laugh out loud, and shake your moral and intellectual core.  It is a must-see for any theatre-goer who wants to be moved, inspired, and challenged.

Things to know before you go: Kita y Fernanda presented by Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company plays at The 10th Avenue Theatre through October 21, 2012.  Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.  For more information or to purchase tickets, call (619) 342-7395 or visit

1 comment:

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