BWW Review: CoHo Productions' MALA Takes an Intimate Look at the Complexities of Caring for Aging Parents
There's no manual for caring for an aging parent. "I failed over and over again in ways that are hilarious, dramatic, and sometimes even horrible," playwright Melinda Lopez told HuffPost. In talking with others, Lopez learned that her experience was common, that many family caregivers also feel like they're failing at what's arguably one of the most important things we can do in life. To help facilitate better conversations about end-of-life care, Lopez turned her experience into MALA, the one-woman play starring Julana Torres that's currently kicking off CoHo Productions' 2019-2020 season.
Mala means "bad," the central character tells us in the play. "Not that you have done something bad, but that you are, in your core, bad." In a moment of confusion, her mother screams this at her, prompting a journey down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, anger, denial, and grief. On the way, there are 911 calls, flashbacks to what her parents were like when they were young, reassurances for her own daughter, words of wisdom from friends and neighbors, and a spate of snowstorms. The result is an honest, intricately layered play, free of romanticism or sugarcoating, about what it means to become the parent for your parent.
The small CoHo Theatre is a perfect venue for this intimate play, and Torres gives a strong and poignant performance. The most powerful moments in MALA are when Torres goes into what feel like streams of consciousness, as if she's processing everything in real time, discovering her feelings as the words pour out of her mouth. In these moments, we're no longer an audience in a theatre, but friends sitting in a living room, or perhaps members of a group therapy circle. These moments are the richest, the funniest (surprisingly, this show is very funny), and the most impactful.
Unfortunately, this feeling isn't sustained for the entire 75 minutes because the script keeps reminding you you're at a play with lines like, "This is the part of the play [where such and such happens]." These interjections prevented me from becoming completely immersed. I might be alone in this -- I heard plenty of sniffles around the theatre -- but for me an emotional climax packs more of a punch when it's not announced in advance.
Overall, I very much enjoyed MALA. It takes a raw, vulnerable look into a phase of life that we don't talk about enough, and Torres does a wonderful job of navigating the complex emotions the piece brings out.
MALA runs at CoHo Theatre through September 28. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Owen Carey