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All My Mothers Dream in Spanish, now getting its world premiere at the Drake, is a lyrical, magical, complex, and healing play by Philly theater artist AZ Espinoza. For the first time, Azuka Theatre (known for uplifting underrepresented voices) teams with Teatro del Sol, Philly’s premier bilingual Latinx theater company.
The play follows three generations of women as they collide under a mango tree. Their magical ancestor Guiomar visits them to share her wisdom and gifts. We open on Camilla Marie arriving at her grandmother’s house to learn spiritual practices to help the revolution. What unfolds is a journey of intergenerational trauma and healing, matriarchal lineage and magic, and dialectic tensions resolved by breaking down binaries: power and healing, ancestral power and modern sensibilities, fighting and stillness. The three generations of women onstage are mother, daughter, and ancestor to each other: past, present, and future collide.
Healing, greeting, and ritual
Espinoza makes healing a major theme. No one is beyond redemption, and each character has the agency to access their own healing, which requires the release of ego and power. The characters are archetypes: the wise grandmother, the daughter who rejected her roots and moved to the US for a better life, the granddaughter who returns to fight in the revolution. They’re distinct family members, but they also all represent different parts of an individual; as they reject each other, they also reject themselves.
But healing needs this cycle of self-rejection, self-acceptance, and integration of disparate elements seemingly at odds with each other. The characters become more than archetypes as they learn to trust and accept the parts of themselves that they’d rather leave behind.
Rituals and greetings are another point of connection and disconnection throughout the play. The play begins with Maria Consuelo (Keila Cordova) scolding her granddaughter Camilla (Cianna Castro) for not greeting her properly. When Camilla’s mother Maria Soledad (called Solly, played by Taysha Marie Canales) returns home after decades away, her mother greets her in a distant way, referring to her as “doctor” rather than “daughter.” Solly later asks her mother to call her Solly rather than “daughter,” adding her own distance to the relationship. The play also depicts a ritualized sacrifice that lets the women commune with their ancestors. Language, greeting, and ritual are ways of turning to or away from each other.
A little more work
I don’t speak Spanish, but I went with an Afro-Latinx friend who does. She connected deeply with the play on a linguistic, cultural, and personal level: it felt like it was about her life. There is depth and nuance here that can be fully appreciated only by Spanish speakers, but Spanish isn’t required to enjoy the play. That’s part of the show’s magic: it works for all audiences. Vital parts are translated, but it is not necessary to understand everything to stay absorbed. For some audience members, this may be challenging, but sitting in this discomfort is part of the magic. The audience has to do a little more work than in some plays, because this isn’t candy; it is a full feast that requires digestion and discussion afterwards.
I am used to sitting in this particular discomfort, as someone who is hopelessly lost whenever someone makes a pop-culture reference, and linguistically lost anytime I go to Chinatown, or tried to talk to my grandmother. This diasporic feeling of being lost linguistically and, to some degree, culturally, translated very well on an emotional level for me.
Design on a higher plane
Director José Avilés (artistic producing director of Teatro del Sol) brings the audience into the spiritual realm with help from the design team and onstage percussion by Anssumane Silla, plus movement direction by Cordova. Silla’s drumming, in a strong African tradition, becomes a language of joy, resistance, and power. The onstage movement expresses emotions that are beyond words—grief, anger, joy, and reconciliation. J. Dominic Chacon’s dramatic lighting joins sound by Larry D. Fowler Jr. and Adiah D. Hicks, allowing Guiomar’s voice to reverberate authoritatively throughout the theater. Marie Laster’s luscious two-story set allows this ancestor to go playfully throughout the stage and mango trees, and move on a literal higher plane of existence.
Playing Guiomar as well as Solly, Canales uses her remarkable stage presence to embrace pain and anger—in movement and language—in a way that transports me to my own mixed feelings of hurt, longing, anger, betrayal, and ultimately hope. Castro plays a fiery youngster wanting radical change with the freshness and strong idealism of youth.
Realistic, magical, and of the moment
This play exists in the past, present, and future, but is also of this moment. It’s deeply rooted in historical figures and the literary tradition of magical realism. A majority of this piece was developed during 2020 and 2021, and it holds that feeling of pause and reflection and confrontation. It incorporates issues like often-fatal police brutality and the intergenerational trauma of being Black in America, as well as contrasting the experience of being Black in America with being Black in the Latinx diaspora.
All My Mothers Dream in Spanish is a stylistically innovative and emotionally powerful masterpiece of modern theater. I would recommend this magical experience to everyone.
What, When, Where
All My Mothers Dream in Spanish. By AZ Espinoza, directed by José Avilés. Pay what you decide. Through March 19, 2023, at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 302 S Hicks Street, Philadelphia. (215) 563-1100 or azukatheatre.org.
Masks are required inside the theater. Covid-19 vaccination is highly recommended, but not required.
The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake is a wheelchair-accessible venue with gender-neutral restrooms.
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