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Review: ALMA at ArtsWest

An emotional piece that could use a little less introspection.

Review: ALMA at ArtsWest
Yolanda Suarez and Leah Sainz-Jones
in Alma at ArtsWest.
Photo credit: John McLellan

For many, the days following the election of Donald Trump to the White House were harrowing, fraught with uncertainty and angst but especially for undocumented immigrants whose livelihood seemed to be the focal rallying cry of the former President and his base. So, setting a play such as Benjamin Benne's "Alma" with its Latinx characters in this tumultuous time instantly amps up the emotion. However, the current production at ArtsWest also leaned in fairly heavily into introspective moments which, while emotional, aren't that interesting to watch.

The story centers around single mother Alma (Yolanda Suarez) and her teenage daughter Angel (Leah Sainz-Jones) on the eve of Angel's SAT exam. Alma has been quizzing her daughter for months, but now that the moment is here Alma returns home to find Angel is out partying with her friends. Furthermore, Angel feels this isn't the right time for the test and maybe she won't go to college right away. But with the state of the country and their citizenship, Alma is worried for her daughter's future and must convince her to continue on with the plan.

Director Sophie Franco takes an even and easy pace with this one, sometimes a bit too easy. For a 90-minute play with only two actors, the show takes a bit too long to get going and the first half feels like we're trapped at a dinner party watching a parent argue in circles with their petulant teen. That's not something I care to see. The show does eventually get to the meatier issues but by that time, the actors had settled into this pace. Plus, Franco allowed for way too many and too lengthy introspective pauses. Moments where the actors are just sitting there in silence, brooding. Again, not the most engaging of entertainments. I'm not expecting car chases or laser battles in a drama such as this, but you still need to give me something to grab onto.

The two actors handle the harsher moments well, especially Suarez who has a truly vulnerable moment near the end that sent shivers down my spine. But both of them, especially Sainz-Jones, didn't have much in the way of growth or an arc for the characters, leading to a fairly unsatisfying ending. So much so that when the lights went down the audience wasn't sure it was over.

I appreciate the message here and I certainly appreciate the fears behind that message with our political landscape, but I'm not sure if that message rang through for me as much as it could have as the show makes you work a little too hard to get to it. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "Alma" at ArtsWest a left a little out in the cold MEH+. This slow burn of a play could have just used a bit faster of a burn to get to its point.

"Alma" performs at ArtsWest through May 22nd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.artswest.org.



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