By Joe Straw
I guess the Eiffel Tower is the center of the world; you’re bound to run into someone from your past. – Josefina Lopez – Hungry Woman in Paris
I want to go to Paris, La Ville-Lumière – it’s plain and simple. I love the French people; they are “so French”. I worked with Parisians Roland Petit and Zizi Jeanmaire of the Ballet de Marseilles. I fell in love with a beautiful French ballerina, which was sadly, unrequited, and sent me into a downward spiral for two whole days.
Still I always wanted to go. Going to Paris was the trip that my wife and I spoke about – planning a trip to the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musée Rodin, Notre Dame de Paris, viewing the French artworks masters François Boucher, Jacques-Louis David, Théodore Géricault, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet, and Alfred Sisley – and then she became my ex-wife. Longer spiral.
All right, so that’s not going to happen, at least not with her, but the next best thing is going to Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights to see the World Premier of Hungry Woman, based on the novel, Hungry Woman in Paris (2009) wonderfully written by Josefina Lopez, and marvelously directed by Corky Dominguez. It features a wonderful simple all-purpose set by Set Designer Cesar Holguin, and beautiful costumes by Costume Designer Anthony Villarreal. In short, it is manifique!
It’s almost like being in Paris and, for the time being, I’m completely satisfied.
Josefina Lopez gives us Paris and she does it with witty dialogue and a grand sense of the place, not only in Paris, but back home in Los Angeles as well. The characters of this play, based on her novel Hungry Woman in Paris (2009), jumps out at you like the dancers of the Lido Champs-Elysées, because they are so full of color, life, and humanly want.
Canela (Rachel González) is a strong willed woman who takes us on an introspective journey of her life, from Los Angeles to Paris and back again to Los Angeles. She is hungry and is always on the lookout for food, lovers, jobs, or a mentally rewarding cap on her writing career. She is engaged to be married, but ambivalent knowing that marriage is not what she most desires. She wants a richer life, amelioration, for a greater emotional, spiritual, and physical existence.
“This is either the longest suicide note in history or the juiciest, dirtiest, most delicious confession you’ll ever hear.” – Canela
Canela’s Mother (Linda López) only wants what is best for her so she delightfully tries to get Canela married off to Armando (Juan Parada), a doctor, and nags her to get the job done.
But Canela has called off the wedding, despite her mother’s desires. Something having to do with battling her future mother-in-law about the wedding menu. Canela knows her mother is getting old and is dying a very slow death waiting for her daughter to marry. Still that doesn’t stop Canela’s mother from trying her best to get a permanent ring on Canela’s finger, even if it kills her.
And speaking of killing, death brings out the worst in people. Canela is at the funeral for her cousin and best friend, Luna. The gossip is that Luna had overdosed on six Cokes. For a lot of people, death, and the coming together, is the last meeting to get your emphatic point across to someone who you feel just does not get it.
And Canela is no different from the rest of us. She sets the record straight with her mother, her Tia Bonifacia (Ronnie Valentine), and anyone else within earshot. And if it means coming to blows, so be it.
But expressing her unequivocal views has its consequences.
“Now I understand why your fiancé dumped you.” – Tia Bonifacia
“Then I must congratulate your husband for being a saint and staying with you…Oh wait, he’s cheated on you with your neighbor, your cousin, and even your own sister.” - Canela
“Somebody hold my earrings” – Tia Bonifacia
Tia, ready to snatch Canela baldheaded, is held off by the others.
When things calm down, Tia Lucia gives Canelas’s mother a letter written by the late Luna for Canela and Canela’s mother slips it into her bra. In fact, a lot of important things are slipped into the bras of this family. It seems to be an important physical family trait.
Canela lies in bed contemplating the unthinkable. La Calaca Flaca (Mary Mendoza), La Santa Muerte or death spirit is a gentle guiding force that wants her to commit suicide. Just what Canela needs! La Calaca Flaca gives her the sleeping pills and tells her that it’s okay, come on over. Yes, it’s true Luna is dead and gone, so Canela must join her one true friend.
But after taking, not one but four pills, Canela remember that she has tickets to fly to Paris for her honeymoon. And since there is no honeymoon and no husband, the tickets and honeymoon suite are paid for, and Bush just got re-elected, eh, why not?
So Canela flies to Paris and checks herself into the honeymoon suite ignoring the scrum of the French locals. After her two weeks, she doesn’t want to return. So her friend Rosemary (Amber Rivera) lets her stay with her in a small servants quarter.
But Rosemary’s mother suddenly dies and Rosemary leaves Canela in the apartment allowing her to have an extended stay in Paris.
Canela can’t stay too long without becoming undocumented in Paris so she finds out she can stay longer by enrolling in cooking school.
And with a purpose and more time in this year long program Canela finds a way to satisfy her hunger for food, emotional, and physical wants. And in the back of her mind she wants to know why her cousin killed herself not knowing Luna has left her a final note. And Canela’s mother holds onto the note, waiting for Canela to come back to get her life in order.
There are a number of outstanding performances in this production, which flows along seamlessly from one scene to another, and this production for the most part soars. Could this be made into a movie? Yes, I think it could and should.
Rachel González is wonderful as Canela. She is onstage all of the time and never lets a moment pass. Saucy and sassy all in one breath she tries to find excitement and satisfaction for that “one thing” in life, that one thing that will make her happy, the obsession to feed her hungers. I’m not sure she ever got there and I’m equally sure she doesn’t want to find it. Still she should keep looking. For the character, I believe curiosity would be a critical element to add to the performance. Still González is marvelous in the role.
Linda López is remarkable as Canela’s Mother. She is the comic foil to her daughter’s misery and this all works to perfection. This is the perfect role for López and she is flawless in the role.
Mary Mendoza as the spirit La Calaca Flaca has a very strong presence on stage and does well to be that spirit, always waiting in the background, and making her ghostly manifestation known, a sneaky deathly enticement waiting just around the corner. Mendoza is also very funny as Editor Gina with her raspy smoke aged voice.
Claudia Durán is very sympathetic as Canela’s Older Sister Reina and equally engaging as Mariana and as the Asian Woman all together magnificent in each role. She gets better every time I see her at Casa 0101.
Maricela Guardado plays Canela’s Younger Sister Rosie and Margaret, a giddy woman who took a journalism workshop with Canela in Los Angeles. Margaret plants the seed that leads Canela to stay in Paris. She is marvelous and creates a number of layers in this role, a journalism student, a chef at Le Coq Rouge, and a newly engaged soon-to-be-happy bride.
Ronni Valentine is superb as Tia Bonifacia who wants to tear her niece from limb to limb, but I also noticed small acts in her character, which were the extraordinary silent moments that catapulted her into the next scene. She also plays Luna (Ghost), a Jacob Marley like character that drags the cokes she forged in life around her neck. Valentine is a wonderful actor.
Amber Rivera does a nice turn as Tia Lucia (Luna’s mother), as Rosemary, and as the mysterious Altair. Nice work.
Anne Popolizio makes the most of three engaging characters, Marié-Hélene the woman who signs Canela up for cooking school, the sinister, but delightfully dressed, Mrs. Bodé (“Au revoir.”) and Doctor who fills us in on Canela’s mother medical condition. All the roles were excellent and she has a wonderful knowledge of the craft.
Cameron Moir does some very fine work as Henry, the French interpreter and Englishman, who falls in love with Canela but is not able to commit to that relationship. He comes out in an apron without a shirt to woo her back and shows her everything she needs to know about being in love in Paris. He also plays the Psychiatrist who diagnosed Canela’s chemical imbalance and the TV announcer.
Juan Parada is wonderful as Chef Renault, spoken in French, and complete with wonderful hand movements to describe his thoughts. And he also plays Armando, Canela’s fiancée, who patiently waits for Canela to come back from Paris. And while I thought he did a fine job, I think there’s more to Armando than a stuffy doctor, he is Latin after all, and he must have some worthy magnificent charm that we really don’t see and something Canela must have seen at one time. “I will not pursue you again.” is a line that throws away any charm the character may have had up to this time. So I would suggest giving Armando a lot more charm. And this is just a little note to add to a marvelous performance. It's interesting these two characters are played by same actor - each character satisfying a certain hunger in Canela or maybe the hunger is one in the same.
Angel Farardo plays Canela’s Father, J.C. Mono and Radio Announcer.
Issac Cruz plays Dick, the tearful chef student, Arab-French Man protesting along the streets of the Champs-Elysées, and Canela’s Brother. He does a very fine job for all of the characters.
Josefina Lopez, the writer, has written an exquisitely brilliant play with thriving characters, each strong in their own right, and struggling to have their voice heard. Of course there is Canela, but there is also Canela’s Mother, an Asian woman, Altair a muslin woman, the Arab-Frenchman and who can forget all those snobby French people. The dead also play an important part in this play, they are always around, always reminding that if you want things to be better you can do one or two things differently.
Corky Dominguez, the director, does a remarkable job. The first act is exciting and moves along nicely but the second act, well, the welcome home scene needs work. It needs the bump that creates a stronger relationship with Armando, the mother, and other members of the family. There is always a problem changing scenes with props coming in and out and could be worked out with a little more finesse. But, overall the play works magnificently.
There is a greater life for this play, and one hopes another running in repertory here at Casa 0101 as the show closes tonight June 30, 2013.
Each time I go, the plays, the production values, and the performers just get better and better.
Josefina López and Emmanuel Deleage preform a tremendous job as the Producers of this show.
Other members of the crew are as follows:
Kimiko Broder – Associate Producer
Sohail e. Najafi – Lighting Designer, Associate Projection/Sound Designer
Bill Reyes – Sound Designer/Music Composer
Sherrie Lofton – Production Stage Manager
Adriana I. Colon – Assistant Director
Dr. Tiffany Ana López – Dramaturge
Chloe Diaz – Production Assistant
Matthew Sanchez – Props Master
Vincent A. Sanchez – Assistant Lighting & Projection Designer – The love scene with the erotic paintings were an excellent part of the show.
Jorge Villanueva – Light Board Operator
Ed Krieger – Production Photographer
Steve Moyer – Public Relations, Press Rep.
Soap Design Co – Graphic Design
Edward Padilla – Casting Director (Nice job!)
Mark Kraus – Webmaster
Azul Luna – Postcard Collage Image