The act of playwriting is an intimate and vulnerable act, and the art of acting is another intimate and vulnerable act. MALA written and performed by Melinda Lopez is a beautiful and personal memory play about her journey as her parent’s caretaker and brings beauty, empathy, and humor to an intensely difficult period. MALA is playing through June 12th.
The play opens with Lopez assuring the audience that it’s ok to keep your phones on- after all, you may have someone at home that you may need to hear from if there is an emergency. Her tone is friendly, funny, and completely reasonable. Lopez understands and even describes how she’ll react and how you should react if the phone should happen to ring. She would know, during the play she describes some of the many instances where her phone rang alerting her to an emergency with a family member.
This conversational tone setting is key because it allows for this solo play – where she recounts mostly her, and a few other individuals’ stories of when they are trying to take care of their elderly and dying parents. On a sweet and spare set by scenic designer Alexander V. Nichols that reflects both the home, she created for her parents in the apartment off of her house, to the Massachusets snowbanks that would fill in during blizzards she switches perspectives. From an older achieving sister to a chatty nurse, to the story’s most central character and relationship, Lopez’s mother Frances.
Frances was from Cuba; a vibrant and passionate young woman who wasn’t afraid to challenge her father when Frances’ little sister had to go to the hospital, or when she got married at 19, or immigrated to America and build a life in a new country. Melinda is the younger daughter of Frances, and thanks to having a busy, older, professional sister, she steps up to become the caretaker of their parents when they became too old to live on their own.
“Mala” means bad but the nuance as Lopez explains is that it’s “not that you have done a bad thing but that you are bad to the core.” This is the word that starts to get used by Frances as Lopez has to start making the hard decisions about care. Like whether to allow the paramedics to take her mother to the emergency room or since Frances refuses to go, should Lopez let her mother stay home with a muffin and watch a telenovela instead? Either option has its own consequence and guilt.
Lopez took notes on her phone during these times, phrases or meaningful comparisons that helped her remember what she was feeling and doing during particular circumstances. These notes appear illuminated in projection by lighting designer Jason Lynch on the snowbanks to guide the audience along with her, or what character she is introducing.
To love someone so much, to be helpless in a time where all you want is to help, and to be brave enough to realize when you no longer can help are all poignantly explored and articulated.
Lopez is so beautifully natural, and at ease that if you didn’t know that she was a playwright, and was directed by David Dower you would think that everything she was saying was an off-the-cuff improv as the story came to her. There is no fourth wall keeping her from the audience, she asks rhetorical questions and audience members respond back. From humor to sadness, to irony, to comedically assuring her own daughter that “she’ll never get that old” Lopez is absorbing.
“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.” In MALA, Lopez makes the ordinary extraordinary in bringing this story to the stage with such ease and vulnerability.
How To Get Tickets
Thursday, May 19 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday, May 24 at 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, May 28 at 2:00 p.m.
Wednesday, June 1 at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 5 at 7:00 p.m.
Friday, June 10 at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, June 12 at 2:00 p.m.
Running time: Eighty minutes. There is no intermission.
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