BWW Review: Isaac Gomez's THE WAY SHE SPOKE Explores a City's History of Violence Against Women
Perhaps it would be regarded as exploitative to directly quote the passage here, but the last several minutes of playwright Isaac Gomez's the way she spoke consists primarily of the names, ages, causes of death and physical states of the corpses of several dozen women who were murdered, in scenarios usually involving rape, in the Mexican border city of Juárez during the horrific rise of femicide that has plagued the city since the 1990s.
The assortment of ages, from very young to very old, and the plainspoken descriptions of unthinkable abuse suffered in their final moments is overwhelming to experience. So much so that the script specifies that the actress playing the role can stop at any point, when the character she's playing feels, "a mixture of an inability to breathe, and a desperation to throw up."
Gomez was born and raised in the international metropolis of El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, but it wasn't until he was in college that he learned of Juárez's infamous reputation. His solo piece, which he calls a docu-mythologia, is based on numerous interviews with both women and men of Juárez, and is the latest venture produced at the Minetta Lane Theatre by Audible, Inc., which records its word-focused productions for audio release.
The author uses an play-within-a-play structure for the piece wherein an unnamed actress of Mexican descent (the script specifies that a Mexican actress must be cast), tired of countless auditions for stereotypical roles run by clueless white people, finds herself giving a private cold reading of the way she spoke for the unseen playwright.
For much of the piece she plays Gomez himself, as he tours the city, courtesy of a trusted local, and observes the accepted norms of men preying on women. He's provided with access to those who have witnessed the violence, those who have lost daughters to it, and men who have committed these acts.
But the focus keeps going back to the actress, as she is discovering this situation for herself as she reads and has questions and comments for the playwright.
Playing the actress, Kate del Castillo is seated at a table for much of director Jo Bonney's production. Sometimes she immerses herself fully into the numerous characters the role requires her to play and sometimes, more realistically, she is her actress character reading the script and reacting to it.
It's an understated performance; one that, even from this reviewer's up-close seat, doesn't quote carry vocally nor with command of the stage. Quite possibly it will play more effectively as an audio recording.
The subject alone is enough to send audiences out of the theatre shocked and deeply moved, but until that final devastating moment, the way she spoke appears too unfocused to make an impact on its own.