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Review: Order Chaos Theater Company Presents Melinda Lopez's MALA

Review: Order Chaos Theater Company Presents Melinda Lopez's MALA

The production runs through October 15th at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix, AZ.

In a commanding one-woman performance, Ángela Kabasan Gonzalez embodies the travails of a daughter managing the final stages of her parents' lives. At times pensive, reflective, angry, sad, or whimsical ~ and always grounded and authentic ~ the actress runs through a rainbow of emotions, serving as a master teller of a touching tale of love and fidelity.

As Mala talks to the open space before her (there is no fourth wall or a latticed partition for this confessional), she speaks to her confrontation with mortality...with the onerous burdens of caretaking...with death and dying. Her reflections are intimate and simmering, offering catharsis and, perhaps closure to her exhausting and all-encompassing role as caretaker for her mother.

Following a sympathetic and unorthodox advisory to the audience that they may keep their phones on in case of a life emergency, Mala enters the stage with her own smartphone. It serves as her diary, replete with notes about encounters that she and acquaintances have had with managing elderly and dying parents.

Mala's life, as she tells it in well-paced meter, is an existential balancing act. She is wife, mother, sister, and daughter. It is this last role that occupies the storytelling's's heart and soul.

Review: Order Chaos Theater Company Presents Melinda Lopez's MALA

As the play opens, Mala recalls the day, February 23rd, when Annie, the aide to her 92-year-old mother, has called 911 because of her mom's apparent fall. It's the trigger to the all-too-often "white knuckle" "sinking stomach" drive to the hospital, only then to find that her mother stubbornly refuses treatment. Mom claims that she simply fell off the chair, but Mala knows that there is no such thing as a simple fall. In the wake of her father's "slipping" off his bed seven months earlier, complications arose, and he died.

Nothing simple exists in these moments of frailty. These are the denials of the elderly that plague the child...that resist having the car keys taken away or any challenge to their independence.

Nothing simple lies in the fact that Mala's mother lives with her and not in a nursing home. As difficult as that burden may be, the commitment is implicit in the meaning of familia. It inheres in the Spanish culture that Mala, as a first-generation child, religiously observes. (In an introduction to the production, playwright Melinda Lopez,, of Cuban descent, notes that the character could be Greek or Polish or Mexican. The theme is that universal.)

Whether reenacting her intense exchanges in Spanish with her mother or conversations with acquaintances in similar circumstances, Kabasan Gonzalez nails the accents and accentuates the moments with vitality and emotion.

Mala is the homebody and, as such, is on the receiving end of her mother's complaints and demands. Her accomplished sister may have her opinions about mother's care, but it is Mala that owns the duty.

In writing this play, Melinda Lopez, the Mellon Playwright-in-Residence for the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston and a professor of playwriting at Northeastern University, has taken pages from her own life and developed a narrative that calls upon its audience to confront the realities of "becoming a parent to one's parent."

Ms. Kabasan Gonzalez has embraced Lopez's words and delivered a standout performance that attests to the truth of the script: "Plays are about people who do extraordinary things. But the most ordinary thing you can do is to die. And the second most ordinary thing is to bear witness."

MALA is the first offering of Order Chaos Theater Company's (OCTC) brand-new presence in Phoenix theatre. Given Kabasan González's portrayal under the astute direction of co-founder Jean-Paoul C Clemente, one can only look forward enthusiastically to what is in store for the rest of its inaugural Season.

MALA runs through October 15th at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix, AZ.

Order Chaos Theater Company (OCTC) ~ ~ 602-252-8497

Venue: Herberger Theatre Center ~ 222 E Monroe St, Phoenix, AZ ~ 602-254-7399

Photo Credit: OCTC

From This Author - Herbert Paine

Herb Paine ~ Herb has served as Senior Contributing Editor and lead reviewer for BWW's Phoenix Metro Region since 2014. He has been acclaimed as BEST THEATRE CRITIC by PHOENIX magazin... (read more about this author)

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