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Review: Mildred's Umbrella Presents the Regional Premiere of EL HURACAN

Now on stage at the The DeLuxe Theatre in Houston, Texas

Review: Mildred's Umbrella Presents the Regional Premiere of EL HURACAN
Mayra Monsavais and Pamela Garcia Langton
Photo by Gentle Bear Photography

After a two-year absence, Mildred Umbrella comes back with the regional premiere of El Huracan by Charise Castro Smith. This production reopens a theatre, reestablishes their commitment to telling female-centric stories, and promises a more diverse future for Mildred's Umbrella where they continue to tell stories about people from many different backgrounds. To do all this, and probably a lot more, they've come back with a play that's up to the task.

What we have here is a play about memory, love, and loss. It's about generational cycles. It's about people who failed to keep each other close and will continue to fail if they don't let themselves change. A latinx mother (Arianna Bermudez) deals with complicated feelings towards her daughter (Elissa Cuellar), while her own mother's memory fades away. The hurricane referenced in the title proved a great excuse for these characters to be trapped together for a while. However, the bulk of the play revolves around the before and after of the hurricane. I'd be curious as to what deeper symbolism the audience may find in the title. Could the hurricane represent a repeated cycle of destruction that comes back generation after generation? Could it represent the various challenges a family faces when it tries to stay together? Perhaps the playwright, Charise Castro Smith, wanted us to think of the whirlwind of memories that pass through the mind of a woman who's lived a long life.

Much of the play focuses on the family elder in the later stages of dementia, brought to life by an exceptional performance by Pamela Garcia Langton. The play offers ample opportunity for Langton to show off her range as a performer. When one character asks "where is she?" as she stares off in the distance, we get to see where her mind takes her. She plays the character as she remembers different eras in her life. Sometimes she plays her as a woman whose dementia has made her lose herself completely. Other times she's young again. Sometimes she speaks English, sometimes she speaks Spanish. At any moment she could speak with a different accent, with a different cadence, and a different energy. The greatest accomplishment of the piece is how Langton never loses the believability or the humanity of the character. It's a completely transformative performance.

They've peppered the story with various experimental theatrical devices that occasionally break the fourth wall. These moments could have a giant distraction but Patricia Duran's direction wisely keeps the focus on the characters. Even during one of the more surreal moments halfway through, the actors stayed in character allowing us to absorb their feelings.

If you're a fan of Mildred Umbrella's work then this is a good way to welcome them back. There's a moment in the play that I find particularly symbolic. It's a magic show featuring a young woman in a blue dress and a man in a suit with a top hat. Traditionally the man would be the magician and the woman his pretty assistant. Instead, it's the beautifully dressed woman who does most of the magic while the top hat man acts as the assistant. Maybe this was unintentional, but it made me think of Mildred Umbrella's mission statement, to tell female-centric stories. As Houston's premiere feminist theatre company, it's nice to see them back in business.

El Huracan performs through November 21st. Tickets are "Pay What You Can" with a $10 minimum. Visit Mildred' to purchase your ticket.

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