There is a place for visiting mothers in law*. It’s just not in another’s guest room for an extended period of time. Reasonable, yes. Unfortunately Guadalupe, of the “Guadalupe in the Guest Room” by Tony Meneses finds herself just there, in the guest room next door to her late daughter and widower son-in-law’s bedroom.
Her official visit time expired shortly after her Spanish teacher daughter Claudia died of cancer. Guadalupe came to be with her daughter through the painful transition time at the end of her illness. Months have passed and she is still in the house with Claudia’s bereaving husband, Steve. He speaks very little Spanish and she very little English.
She is on a mission though to translate her late daughter’s illustrated children’s books from English to Spanish. With the help of her late daughter’s middle school teacher friend, Raquel, the job of translating is taking longer than anyone, including Steve had imagined.
|Gabriela Nelson as Guadalupe|
Far from cleaning and cooking, when not assisting Raquel, she relaxes watching the popular Latin American soap opera that turns out, in time to be the melodramatic version of hers and Steve’s situation in scope mirroring the state both she and Steve find themselves in.
The series, “Love is Never Forgotten” is the catalyst by which the two are able to connect. Despite the fact the play takes 90 minutes to act out the stages of grief and healing between Steve and Guadalupe and given this abbreviated time frame, one gets the picture of the connection early on in vivid and living pictures.
“Guadalupe in the Guest Room” is in its West Coast premiere at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad in conjunction with Teatreo Pueblo Nuevo. Nadia Guevara, in her first directorial role leads with a knowledgeable hand and understanding heart bringing out both the humorous, the sentimental and real tragedy of loss, acceptance and recovery. (“I haven’t said much since the funeral. But, not like we said much before anyway. We’re just a couple of quiet neighbors. Him in his room, me in the one down the hall.”)
|Daniel Novoa, Ciarlene Coleman, Tom Steward and Gabriela Nelson|
In a series of short vignettes acted out in the living room, and throughout the house,“Guest Room” plays out with Gabriela Alvarez’ Guadalupe steadfast belief that her daughter’s work must be complete before she returns to her native Guadalajara. Steve retreats to his room where his anger mounts because Guadalupe insists on making his bed and he insists she does not.
Surprise is on the horizon when Roberto (Daniel Novoa) shows up at the house claiming to be the gardener Steve hired to clean up the yard, a job Steve never liked doing.
Over time a sweet romance develops between himself and Guadalupe that brings a much needed diversion and takes some tension out of the house when he takes her to a ‘Mexican’ Restaurant, where the two get to know one another breaking down barriers in their short lived romance.
|Tom Steward and Gabriela Nelson|
On the other hand, in an off guarded moment, Raquel (Ciarlene Coleman) and a stolen kiss between she and Steve widen the gap between mother in law and son in law changing the dynamics all around. (“Traidor/Traitor.”)
Some of the funniest moments come when Raquel and Roberto, act out the TV characters and become another set of living beings, Claudia, Claudia’s twin sister and Aurella and Jose Fernando and Bernardo, changing back and forth as the dramatic story of “Love Never Dies” pushes itself through one set of mishaps after another running parallel to the real life happenings when the TV is off.
Tom Steward’s Steve comes across as a mystery when we first meet up with him. It’s almost as though he has a walk on role until he finally bursts into an angry rage when he finds his bed made up from the night before.
It’s difficult to find too much sympathy for him in the beginning, he’s so distant. As he warms up and brings sorted refreshments to share his hour or so long TV time with Guadalupe, one develops some understanding of his emotional state and eventual recovery.
But it’s not until the two show some raw rage one night in his room, so real, so visceral it brought tears to my eyes, knowing that his hurting ran much deeper than we see on the surface.
|Ciarlene Coleman and Daniel Novoa|
Gabriella Nelson is the epitome of the grieving mother. (“They were married two years. I’m sorry but that does not compare. I know he loved Claudia but it cannot be the same.”) She finds herself in a no win situation until things come full circle and her job of completing her daughter's work coinsides with hers and Steve's finding common ground and, if you will, an unbroken bond.
Ciarlene Coleman is just what the doctor ordered as Claudia’s best friend. In addition to acting out the different character’s, she shows a chameleon like quality changing from over the top to a grounded friend
Carmen Amon’s costumes are fitting. George Ye’s flight design is perfect as the TV personalities act out the various scenes from multiple places in Tanya Orellana’s cut away set design showing the various rooms. Sound and lighting designs by TJ Fucella and Curtis Miller only reinforce the real from the TV.
“Guadalupe in the Guest Room”, a production of both NVA and Teatro Pueblo Nueva program will be accompanied by the integral Teatro Pueblo Nuevo Festival in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage month. The festival will offer a series of free family friendly community events.”
*The last guestroom I stayed in while visiting my family in Israel was also called the bomb shelter.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 28th
Organization: New Village Arts
Production Type: Comedy/Drama
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, CA Carlsbad Village
Ticket Prices: Start at $33.00
Photo: Daren Scott