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A CurtainUp Review
The Maria Project

I was seven when (my mother) told me this secret and it’s haunted me throughout my entire childhood. I never confronted her about this moment. That was part of the agreement. To never bring it Up again. I was 7. — Marcella Salazar

If you want to know your family history — if you want history-you have to go way back. To the bestial times. . .Do you understand what our ancestors went through just for you and me to be here, right now? Talking? —Uncle Frank Jr.
Maria Proect
Marcella Coheen
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
It is a challenging task to stand on a stage and tell a story that is so personal and so harrowing that it rules the speaker’s life. The speaker, in The Maria Project i is Marcella Goheen.

In a little over an hour, Marcella, who also developed this solo piece, tells of growing up haunted by a secret her mother, Marcia, told her. Marcia made the seven-year-old promise to never tell anyone else the secret, nor did Marcia herself acknowledge it again. Marcella, the baby of ten children, took this seriously. She understood that keeping the secret would protect her mother’s sanity, but in turn, Marcella was tortured by it. The Maria Project now at 59E59 Theaters is interspersed with Spanish music and projections of amateur home movies and snapshots.

After learning the secret, Marcella yearned to know more — why she has no maternal grandmother, and what her nationality is. (Marcia insisted they were Irish). Marcia would ignore most questions, replying that where they come from was not important and telling Marcella to focus only on where they were going. She claimed to be an orphan who lived in six foster homes and did not know any family members.

On the day of 9/11, Marcella, now living in New York, gets her first clue to the true story via a phone call from her mother saying a woman named Catherine had information to share about the family. Marcella calls Catherine, who tells her enough to start Marcella's sketching a crude lineage chart. She discovers that her maternal grandmother’s name was Maria and that she is half Hopi Indian and half Spanish. When Marcella tells this to her mother, she's met with silence, but Marcella convinces Marcia to travel with her across the United States and follow the clues to lead them to other family members and finally unravel their story.

Marcella took her video camera and filmed the journey and the video footage brings some light into the dark, complex, often meandering narration. Some intriguing characters who surface include Billie, or Sister Regis, who was kicked out of every diocese because of a gambling habit and who tells them about Juan Salazar in the early 1900’s. He had five children with a servant, including Margarito, who became Maria’s father and Marcia’s grandfather. Margarito was the town drunk and his legal wife eventually took the children and left only the youngest, Maria, with him, in a coal mining camp in Southern Colorado.

A humorous segment shows Carmen, the daughter of Maria’s best friend, teaching Marcella to dance the Meringue. She also reveals the story of Maria’s husband, Frank, Sr., a man nobody liked. Carmen gives Marcella some old photos. Marcella discovers that her mother has a sister, Amolia and a brother, Frank, Jr. and it is from Frank, Jr., that Marcella finally hears the horrendous story of what happened to her grandmother at the hands of her grandfather. This shaped everyone’s destiny of denial and estrangement. As the story unfolds, Marcella becomes determined to write the story of about Maria and the family.

Directed by Larry Moss, the narration shifts between the various family members and Marcella's own struggle with her mother’s secret. The only set design entails a screen for the projections. Wearing casual clothes, Marcella Goheen speaks to the audience and occasionally, she turns to the screen as if to address the images there. She tells her story compellinngly, approaching the details s of the secret with horror and then fury at her grandfather. It is a close relationship that she forges with Uncle Frank, Jr. that brings Marcella a sense of peace of understanding. He helps her believe that her destiny is “to stare this monster straight in the eye and heal.”

A Pure Projects production, The Maria Project is featured during Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2011 as a part of its “80 Voices” campaign, a national campaign initiative to give voice to all women who have lost their lives to violence.

The Maria Project
Developed, Written and Performed by Marcella Goheen
Directed by Larry Moss
Technical Director: Perchik Kreiman-Miller
Footage Editor: Thavisoul Phrasavath
Editor: Edward Einhorn
Production Stage Manager: Megan E. Coutts
Running Time: 70 minutes. No intermission.
Theatre: 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St. between Park and Madison Avenues.
Tickets: $35. ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). TicketCentral: 212-279-4200;
Performances: Tues. through Thurs. at 7:15 PM; Fri., Sat at 8:15 PM;. Sun. at 3:15 PM and 7:15 PM. Added matinee Sat. 3/10/12 at 2:15 PM
Previews 3/6/12; opening 3/11/12; closing 4/1/12. Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 3/8/12
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