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BWW Review: ALMA at Arizona Theatre Company

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Benjamin Benne's riveting and relevant ALMA at Arizona Theatre Company!

BWW Review: ALMA at Arizona Theatre Company

In a time of disruption, nothing can stop the artistic soul from shining the light on the essence of our humanity.

In the case of visionary artistic directors like Arizona Theatre Company's Sean Daniels, the determination to keep theatre top of mind and relevant during the COVID-19 epidemic is evident in creative initiatives like ATC's Digital Season, a bundle of distinct spaces that allow for exploration of the elements that connect and define us.

Cast into one of these spaces is Benjamin Benne's emotion-laden drama, ALMA (livestreaming through August 22nd, at 5:00 p.m.PT/8:00 p.m. ET). (Benne is ATC's 2019 National Latinx Playwriting Award Winner.)

Promoted as an online reading, the production, directed with a sharp eye for nuance and expression by Catherine María Rodríguez, is something far more. It stands as a virtual virtuoso portrayal of a mother and daughter absorbed in the generational tensions common to parent and child but also threatened by the ominous shadows of a mean-spirited politics.

The time is just prior to the 2017 inauguration of a new President. Anti-immigrant rhetoric has been on the upswing as one of the candidates has relentlessly indulged in demonizing a people. The shadow of oppressive policies looms large.

As proof, however, that all politics is really personal, the political fury outdoors inevitably intrudes upon the private lives of Alma (Danaya Esperanza) and Ángel (Amandla Jahava).

Alma is a woman of faith and fortitude who has devoted herself to ensuring that her daughter, Ángel, will realize the promises of the American dream. Indeed, Alma's future and security hinge on Ángel's fidelity to their shared wish list.

At the age of seventeen and bearing a rebellious nature, Ángel may have other ideas. On an evening when she should be preparing for the SAT, to the consternation of her mother she's with friends. Her lapse of discipline and direction fuels a give-and-take about priorities and expectations in the course of which playwright Benne gives voice through Ángel to a critique of modern America and matters of profound consequence.

In his acceptance of the 2019 Blue Ink Playwriting Award for ALMA, Bennes noted, "As the son of a Latin American immigrant, I couldn't think of focusing on writing any other story post-election...about the U.S. as a place of opportunity/oppression that also explores current U.S. immigration law and exposes the injustice of borders, while breathing joy, pain, hope, and uncertainty into an intimate relationship between two humans who are actively being dehumanized by the current U.S. administration."

There is a point in the 90-minute exchange between the actresses when the digital distancing walls blur and it is as if Alma and Ángel are really in the same room, jousting with each other on matters of varying importance, none so important as what the future will hold if the promise of the American dream is betrayed.

It is a tribute to the riveting performances of Esperanza and Jahava, the guiding spirit of director Rodríguez, and Benne's poetic and rhythmic sensibility, that one's eyes are transfixed on the screen, one's heartbeat pulsates to the joint recitation of the wish list, and one's emotions are owned by ALMA.

With the staging of ALMA, Arizona Theatre Company honors itself as a voice of conscience in these challenging times. Kudos to Daniels and company.

ALMA will livestream through August 22nd, at 5:00 p.m.PT/8:00 p.m. ET at https://www.facebook.com/ArizonaTheatreCompany/posts/10160265307153975.

Poster credit to Arizona Theatre Company

Arizona Theatre Company ~ https://arizonatheatre.org/ ~ 1636 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004 ~ 602-256-6995



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From This Author Herbert Paine