Review: RADICAL OR, ARE YOU GONNA MISS ME? at IAMA At Atwater Village Theatre

IAMA world premiere looks at family and community

By: Nov. 26, 2023
Review: RADICAL OR, ARE YOU GONNA MISS ME? at IAMA At Atwater Village Theatre

A young Latina named Belinda is ushered unceremoniously into her childhood home by the older sister who has turned her former bedroom into a workout room, meaning Belinda will have to sleep on the couch. A monitoring device attached to Belinda’s leg for a political demonstration that hurt people means that this woman – already pissed off - cannot leave.  Under house arrest in a home that her sister has taken over, sleeping underneath the aphorism “Love is the antidote to loneliness,” Belinda is in limbo. The sisters’ recently deceased mother found it in the bargain bin at Marshall’s. Both sisters could benefit from its wisdom.

As could we all. The world of Isaac Gomez’s play RADICAL OR, ARE YOU GONNA MISS ME? is a desolate and empty place, and the work’s world premiere at the Atwater Village Theatre establishes a corresponding tone of loneliness through the production’s 90 minutes.  While Belinda is its center, Gomez does not short shift the play’s two equally unhappy characters - her sister Rosalie and Erica, the friend who has brought Belinda to this moment of crisis. By extension, the playwright also cares about an America that has engendered these three damaged souls. Shot through with equal parts rancor and compassion, Jess McLeod’s production of this, IAMA’s first-produced commission, is effective despite some narrative speedbumps.

The setting is El Paso during Trump’s presidency, a dead-end town from which Rosalie (Anna LaMadrid) – a nurse practitioner who had hoped to become a doctor – would love to escape and to which Belinda has reluctantly returned. A pipe bomb has been detonated in a City Hall bathroom and Belinda is the only suspect the police have apprehended. In a series of flashbacks, we trace the relationship of Belinda and Erica (Kim Griffin) who meet while both women are working at a warehouse. Rather prophetically, Erica calls this new employee who shares the graveyard shift “fresh meat.” Things will improve from there between the two women.

Ditto at home, where Rosalie quickly segways from seething animosity towards her screw up of a kid sister to a fierce desire to do anything to protect her, including encouraging her to lie to the police. That Rosalie would want to rebuild an already fractured rapport with her only sibling is believable, but the about-face and the quickly-established warmth between the two sisters feels abrupt and often narratively false.

RADICAL time hops between Belinda and Rosalie in the present day and Erica and Belinda in the recent past. The living room set fashioned by Nicholas Ponting has the feeling of a home which Rosalie is in the process of changing. When we move back in time to The Warehouse, the transitions are quick and navigable. McLeod smoothly paces the action building towards a dangerous reckoning. Josh Epstein’s lighting and John Nobori’s sound help flesh out the atmosphere although a snowfall effect bridging two scenes is a bit jarring.  

Ramos is credible and sympathetic as the lonely soul drawn between these two opposing forces. Betimes tough, naïve and vulnerable, the actress takes us convincingly across a difficult set of circumstances. Yes, she confesses, she voted for a politician who considers her ethnic group vermin. Yes, she is culpable for the action that led to her arrest, an action she defends as being “necessary.”  Above all, whether pouring her heart out or manifesting defiance Ramos establishes Belinda as a young woman completely adrift, in search of someone – anyone – to give her a place to belong.

Her attraction to someone like Erica is relatable and in Griffin’s layered performance, it takes awhile for us to figure out whether Belinda’s only friend is kind, malevolent or somewhere in between. In Erica, Gomez has written another character who has experienced loss and blows and has figured out a way to channel them into a different outlet. Griffin brings out the character’s toughness and then proceeds to crack it open. The inner conflict experienced by LaMadrid’s Rosalie is a lot more evident, and on the occasions when she utter the words “dear sister” LaMadrid laces it with an extra bit of venom.

The title of Gomez’s play contains a question which is asked by one of the characters. The playwright sneaks it in, and, in the context of this bitter but still compassionate play, the answer means everything. “Of course I would,” comes the reply. But we’re not the least bit sure this is true.   

RADICAL or, ARE YOU GONNA MISS ME? plays through Dec. 11 at the Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A. 

Photo of Kim Griffin and Elizabeth Ramos by Makela Yepez

 




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