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A CurtainUp Review
Underneath My Bed
By Elyse Sommer
Florenzia Lozano, best known for her roles as attorney Tea Delgado in the daytime TV Soap One Life to Live has packed her debut play underneathmybed with big chunks of overlapping Spanish and English dialogue that may have non-Spanish speakers wishing the small projection screen did double duty with English translations. Though living in this country since childhood, the actress-cum-playwright is clearly attracted to Spanish speaking writers' penchant for magic realism, so there's also a hefty dose of this style of surrealism. Given all this, close attention must be paid in order to understand the volatile characters and the historic events that have cast a heavy shadow over the Jiminez suburban household in which the play unfolds during the year 1982.
underneathmybed (yes, that's supposed to be all lower case and without spaces!) is certainly an example of a writer heeding the "write about what you know" mantra. The author's own family, like the Jiminez parents and daughters, emigrated to the United States and settled in suburban Boston before an oppressive military regime turned their native Argentina into the nightmare world known as the "Dirty War" — a period from 1976 to 1983, during which thousands of people disappeared. Perhaps the difficulty of exploring painful memories as much as her acting kept Ms. Lozano's script unfinished for years. In the years from idea on the page to execution on stage, the increasingly tight economy has made it almost impossible for large cast plays like underneathmybed to be produced. Yet, the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater has gone all out to give this 10-actor play an exceptionally handsome and evocative production.
The crimes of the " Dirty War" included taking hundreds of babies from their biological parents for adoption by regime supporters; also the rape and killing of of young girls like the three Jiminez daughters. The illegal adoption horror was sensitively and realistically explored in the 1985 film The Official Story.
Lozano has used the youngest Jiminez daughter, Daisy (Vanessa Aspillaga) to narrate what is essentially a series of nightmarish recollections of her parents angry arguments about what was happening in Argentina and could be happening to them had they not emigrated. Aspillaga brings an endearing quirkiness to this demanding role that includes her hilarious attempt to smooth over a tense situation by performing a scene from Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart. However, her Daisy hasn't really altered my basic lack of enthusiasm for mature actors playing children (According to Aspillaga's bio at the Internet Movie Data Base, she's 38 here playing 13). The character listed only as "S" (Marina Pulido) is thus a fantastical alter-ego who Daisy must let go of before she can get over the panic attacks that cause her often freakish behavior.
As if all the sturm and drang at the Jiminez dinner table didn't provide enough drama, the playwright has ramped up the tensions by adding Daisy's thirteen-year-old burgeoning sexual awakening and confusion to her visions of an Argentinean girl whose scrap paper notes of her ordeal were published by a Journalist and discussed at the dinner table. To help stir a touch of realistic immigrant life into this at times confusing mix of what's happening in the Jiminez home and Daisy's fevered mind, we have the older older sisters: Middle sister Josefina (Audrey Esparza) is as angry as her father Esteban (Ed Trucco) — not about the injustices in Argentina that fire him up but his insistence on speaking Spanish and not allowing her to see more of her boyfriend Kaspar (Matthew Dellapina, who spends most of the play lurking on a staircase at the side of the stage and announcing the next scene). The oldest sister Paola (Vivia Font) is fixated on achieving the American Dream via admission to Harvard.
The one character who seems to share Daisy's vision is the grand aunt Tia Toti (Maria Cellaria), who was brought over to take care of the girls while their parents work but is also secretly caring for a cat who gets mixed up with the tortured girl of Daisy's dreams. Are you still with me? Besides the fantastical scenes in which " S" is either in Tia Toti's cat cage under the sink or underneath Daisy and Josefina's bed, there's a dinner party from hell. The guests are a couple who attend the same church as the Jiminez family, Doctor M (Charles Goforth) who has written a recommendation that may help Paola get into Harvard and his alcoholic wife Jean (Yetta Gottesman). If only every part of this play were as good as this increasingly chaotic party which is a perfect marriage of realism and surrealism. Olivera Gajic's tablecloth hostess gown for Lizbel (Paula Pizzi) is stunningly bizarre. Scenic, lighting and sound designers Raul Abrego, Nicole Pearce and Jamie Bullard, who do excellent work throughout, outdo themselves when the elegant gown and tablecloth turn into a breathtaking blood and paprika stained outlandish mess.
Ultimately, underneathmybed, despite being an unusual, well acted and splendidly staged strange yet real family drama suffers from the novice playwright's tendency to try to do too much and fail to bring it all to a thoroughly satisfying conclusion.