A thrilling trilingual debut

Power Street Theatre presents Erlina Ortiz and Robi Hager’s Siluetas

3 minute read
With chorus members raising arms behind, KO poses with an intent expression by a bed, in a sleeveless beige dress.
Vulnerable dignity: KO in ‘Siluetas’ from Power Street Theatre. (Photo by Chris Jordan Photography.)

The world premiere of Power Street Theatre’s Siluetas, a trilingual work that tells its story in English, Spanish, and Arabic, reminds us why the development of a new musical can be thrilling to witness. Lucky for Philadelphians, this piece inspired by the work of multidisciplinary Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta is getting its debut at Temple’s Randall Theatre, from Erlina Ortiz (book and lyrics) and Robi Hager (music and lyrics).

The original musical centers Cuban immigrant Dinora (Tony-winner KO, aka Karen Olivo), who is forced to expatriate by her mother and ends up in a loveless marriage. The bulk of the story takes place in 2016, 20 years after her move, in the wake of her divorce.

The narrative follows an unlikely formula akin to The Odd Couple. Middle-aged Dinora ends up living in a one-bedroom apartment with Khalilah (Angel Alzeidan), a recently graduated art student from Syria. While the cramped space does not fit with Dinora’s quest for independence, Khalilah convinces her to move in. We then meet their neighbors: handyman Robert (Guillermo Jemmott Jr.) and Ian (Garrick Vaughn).

From there, the news cycle of 2016 takes over: the election, the lifting of the embargo on Cuba, and the Syrian civil war rattle the lives of all the characters. There is also an interfaith love story thrown in for good measure.

Exciting potential

If all of this sounds a little jam-packed for a two-hour musical, it’s because it is (and there are quite a few plot points I am glossing over). Given the stage in this musical’s development, though, there is a lot of potential to hone, edit, and finesse. Hager’s music is top-notch under music director Brigitte Rottman, the characters are lovable and represent unique points of view, and the performances are vital.

Because the play strives to achieve so much, scenes can feel bloated and uneven. Ortiz’s book goes from quippy one-liners about life in Philadelphia to preachy political tangents—for example, a too-cute aside about student debt. This is not to say the play is shallow, but the richness of the story is weighed down by some of the political points that the playwrights have overly signified.

Dignity and dramatic range

KO as Dinora deserves their flowers. They bring a vulnerable dignity to the role of Dinora. The role is as demanding as Gypsy’s Mama Rose, giving a tremendous opportunity for a performer to display their dramatic range and vocal chops. KO does that and more.

As her plucky roommate, Alzeidan is quite good at hitting the comedic zippiness of her character and emphasizing the dramatic gravitas of the heavier material. However, the portrayal can feel fragmented, split between those two poles. Vaughn builds her love interest Ian into a lovable good guy. Jemmott is currently underutilized as Robert.

The remaining ensemble (Johanna Carlisle-Zepeda, Victor Rodriguez Jr., Kara Rantovich, and Rob Tucker) plays the ancestors, a Greek chorus of sorts who help set the mood and occasionally intervene in the plot.

Not a perfect show, but an exciting one

Director Rebecca Aparicio guides this impressive production. Choreographer Sanchel Brown helps make use of the small space with purposeful, if sometimes overwrought, movement. Scenic designer Chris Haig creates an otherworldly effect on the understated set with the use of semi-opaque curtains. Projection designer Taj Rauch helps create a sense of place, movement, and story throughout.

While Siluetas is not a perfect show, it is an exciting one, full of so much potential it practically combusts off the stage. Audiences should relish the opportunity to see it (tickets are pay-what-you-can), and with any luck, revisit later in its development.

What, When, Where

Siluetas. Book and lyrics by Erlina Ortiz; music and lyrics by Robi Hager. Directed by Rebecca Aparicio with music direction by Brigitte Rottman. Pay-what-you-decide on a sliding scale from $5-$200. Through June 23, 2024 at Temple University’s Randall Theatre, 2020 N. 13th Street, Philadelphia. Powerstreettheatre.com.


All seating is first-come, first-served. For accessibility questions, email [email protected].

Sign up for our newsletter

All of the week's new articles, all in one place. Sign up for the free weekly BSR newsletters, and don't miss a conversation.

Join the Conversation