Review: ALTER at Cleveland Public Theatre & Teatro Publico De Cleveland

ALTER - an impressive new play gets strong production at Cleveland Public Theatre

By: Feb. 20, 2024
Review: ALTER at Cleveland Public Theatre & Teatro Publico De Cleveland
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Developing an original new play script is a daunting task.  The writer must have an idea, topic, or belief that they want to present in dramatic form.  The script gets written, usually rewritten and then rewritten a number of times.  Table readings or workshops allow the writer to “hear” the effect of the language choice and whether the intent of the script is achieved.  Ideally, this “tryout” process continues until the writer is satisfied that they have achieved their intent.

ALTER, which is now in production at Cleveland Public Theatre has had extensive vetting.  It’s journey to its present state started in 2017, when as author Tania Benites relates in her program notes, that she “started to explore playwriting in a workshop offered by Teatro Püblico de Cleveland. “ 

In 2018 the manuscript had a staged reading.  An excerpt was performed in 2019 and in 2023 the play, as a whole, was presented as part of Test Flight.  This led, as Benites states, “allowed me to deepen my understanding of my own story and prepare for this main stage production. “

All that work was worth the effort! 

The play examines what happens when our wishes for what we want to be takes form as we work to achieve our supposed goals.  Sometimes, as Benites shares with us, what we wish for alters us so much that we lose who we are and it is replaced by a “new” person.  The end result may not be what we had envisioned.

As the author also states, “While I believe self-improvement is important and good, the self-help world can often become toxic and encourage the myth that you must always be optimizing and leveling up to be successful, no matter what.”

The official description calls ALTER a workplace dramedy, but the playwright sees it as more of a dark comedy with thriller and horror elements.

For the viewer this can be both a cautionary tale and a lesson in the adage “be careful what you wish for.”

The story, which is told in English with Spanish supertitles, centers on customer service representative Maria, who, using a self-help book entitled Hypnosis for Self Confidence, follows the dictates of the book in her attempt to succeed in the corporate world, as well as in her personal and family relationships.  She becomes wildly successful in her job, but destroys the life of a co-worker, sends a dating relationship into a tail-spin, stumbles in her role as daughter and, eventually, eliminates her sense of self.

Director Kari Barclay keeps the actions moving along so smoothly that the 90-minute production, with no intermission, speeds right by. 

The scenes are well staged, the character development clear, and the humor and tensions well honed.

Andrea de la Fuenta doesn’t act Maria, she understands the motivations of the character and develops them.  She is Maria. 

She is nicely balanced by Rajah Morales, M/Figure, Maria’s “alter” self.

The rest of cast, Alisha Caraballo, Mónica A. Cerpa Zúñiga, Sylka Edmonson, Lionel Morales, David L. Munnell give excellent supporting performances.

Benjamin Gantose’s set and light designs work well.

Capsule judgment: It is always interesting to see a new script in its first full production.  With ALTER, the viewer not only gets to see the birth, but also experience a fine staging values.  Congrats to Tania Benites for developing a meaningful play and to Cleveland Public Theatre for giving the audience a fine experience.

ALTER is playing at Cleveland Public Theatre’s James Levin Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., February 8-24. Tickets are choose-what-you-pay with a suggested price of $1 to $80. Visit cptonline.org for more information and to purchase.




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