My Broken Language – A Tight Knit Family of Women

Playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes adapts and directs her critically acclaimed memoir about being raised in a West Philadelphia Puerto Rican family surrounded by generations of vibrant women. As we pass through called-out years, actors mercurially play aspects of the author (nicknamed Kiki) in addition to others. It’s often difficult to identify which character is speaking. “The point is a multiplicity of voices, bodies, and vibez,” Hudes wrote. In the end, we think of them all as one colorful organism. It made me want to read the book for clarification. A fourth wall comes and goes.

Samora la Perdida, Zabryna Guevara, Marilyn Torres

The writer is at her computer when characters erupt from the house (memories) to exuberantly dance, mostly each on her own, yet connected. “If you were on a shopping spree and you loaded your car full of cousins, that was Abuela’s house,” she explains. It’s 1988. She’s 13. “I had blackheads and wedgies…piano lessons and nubby nails…” On a trip with the cool cousins, she was “told scatological jokes that were Egyptian to me.” This rite of passage involves the adolescent’s changing body. 

Sneaking downstairs to discover the source of drums, Kiki observes her mother, physically wracked, possessed by spirits. “There was something familiar in the nature of the dancing. I had no language for this. Were my words and my world ever alike? God make me whole. Help me find the right language.” Expression is not just that of a cultural and geographic transplant nor a young person watching the inexplicable, but also of an aspiring writer.

Yani Martin and Company

At 15, Kiki has insights about Death of a Salesman (in school). Two cousins die. “I  am 16 years old.”  An unusual artwork by Duchamp featuring a naked woman with her legs spread polarizes. Her articulate reaction is more sophisticated than those of a teenager. Abuela’s rice recipe is performed with one actress in a tiled tub seemingly bathed by the others – with rice. A cousin past high school is discovered to be illiterate. Kiki goes to college, and, at 26, graduate school for playwriting. Perceptions focus vividly on observations of bodies. One co-ed has “stalactitties.”

The company carries and speaks of books. I don’t understand this. None seem to be studying except Kiki. Stymied at her keyboard, she too is possessed (by spirits), losing several hours, waking to a fully completed manuscript. Has she offended her family by telling the truth? “Yeah it hurts,” a cousin responds, “but I feel seen. That’s an honor.”

The piece leaves us with an overall feeling for her close family, though there’s neither message nor arc. According to the playwright, each of the fluid scenarios is rooted in women’s bodies; some are obvious, others elusive. As director, Hudes is perhaps too close to her material. Narrative could successfully be cut by twenty minutes; pacing is off. Use of the stage is excellent as is character synergy.

Marilyn Torres, Yani Marin, Daphne Rubin-Vega (Foreground), Samora la Perdida

Stand outs Daphne Rubin-Vega and Zabryna Guevara approach monologues as grounded and conversational. Both are able, sincere storytellers whose theatrical relationships embodying this attribute. We believe them. Yani Marin excels at particularly physical roles. Her focus vibrates.

Also featuring Marilyn Torres and Samora la Perdida.

Choreography (Ebony Williams) is infectious and galvanizing, hips and arms conscripted by quick, tight, teasing, celebratory rhythm. “The body was one of the primary ways my multilingual migrant family had to communicate,” Hudes says. Depiction of being possessed by spirits is viscerally evocative.

Scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado looks upscale tropical – Puerto Rico? It’s marvelous, but the play takes place in West Philly where turquoise-tiled backyards with hot weather fans are unlikely. A disconnect.

Daphne Rubin-Vega (seated), Samora la Perdida (standing), Marilyn Torres (seated) Yani Marin (standing)

Dede Ayite’s costumes are casual, contemporary, and transitioned-from-the-island apt.

Pianist  Ariacne Trujillo-Durand intermittently plays meandering melodies or dance music which sound muddy and pedestrian.

Photos by Julieta Cervantes
Opening: left to right – Marilyn Torres, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Zabryna Guevara, Yani Marin, Samora la Perdida

My Broken Language
Written and Directed by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Choreography by Ebony Williams
Music Supervision by Alex Lacamoire
Signature Theater                                                                        

About Alix Cohen (1429 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.