RED BANK: EIGHT WOMEN, A WAR AND LOVE

Previews for ‘The Women of Padilla’ start this weekend at the Two River Theater. Below, playwright Tony Meneses.(Click to enlarge.)

In a 2015 redbankgreen interview, Tony Meneses confessed he “had a sense from the start that I was never gonna make money as a playwright, that it had to mean something more to me than that.”

The Guadalajara-born, Brooklyn-based dramatist was speaking about Guadalupe in the Guest Room, a comedy-drama with a personal slant that made its fully staged world premiere at Red Bank’s Two River Theater.

The women of ‘Padilla,’ and the actors who play them. (Click to enlarge.)

Since then, the bilingual transplant from the American Southwest (whose professed influences range from Virginia Woolf to Buffy the Vampire Slayer) has seen several of his scripts presented as fully staged productions and workshopped readings; entered into an artistic direction role with NYC’s acclaimed Soho Rep.; received some prestigious awards, and been hailed for his inventive storytelling and strong female characters.

That skill set hits home beginning this Saturday, when the world premiere engagement of The Women of Padilla goes up in previews at the Two River company’s branded Bridge Avenue artspace.

Set on the homefront during an unspecified foreign war — one that “seems as if it has been going on for years and will continue for may more” — the play is an ensemble piece for eight actresses, playing wives whose husbands are off fighting in that vaguely defined (but somehow universal) conflict. Over the course of the play’s action, the women “carry on and cook and laugh and weep and fight,” as they determine that “there is always a way — even through the hardest of times — to set our love free,” according to promotional material.

These Women of Padilla have something in common — they happen to be the eight brides of eight brothers — but are presented as a diverse lot. There’s Blanca, “the one on the outside” (Karina Arroyave, who appeared as Jamey Farrell on TV’s 24); Lucha, “the one with poetry” (Helen Cespedes, who appeared with Daniel Radcliffe in Broadway’s The Cripple of Inishmaan);  Mari, “the one who quietly leads” (young Shakespearean veteran Jacqueline Correa), and Fidela, “the one who’s taciturn” (Daniella De Jesús, seen on Orange is the New Black and other TV projects).

Add to that Alejandra, “the one who’s expecting” (Paloma Guzmán, possessor of numerous TV and Off Broadway credits); Marta, “the one with faith” (Keren Lugo, from New York’s Public Theater and other distinguished alliances); Cristina, “the one who’s young” (Elizabeth Ramos, whose many stage credits range from coast to coast), and Carmen, “the one who drinks” (New York Drama Desk nominee Jeanine Serralles) — and you’ve got all the advance information needed to enter into this theatrical experience (other than the fact that there will be puppets, designed for the production by James Ortiz), which hosts its official opening night on Friday, April 14.

Each of the eight players will be making her debut on the Red Bank stage with this production, under the direction of a Two River returnee: two-time Obie winner Ken Rus Schmoll, who oversaw the quirky world premiere comedy Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England in 2011.

As Meneses — who works regularly with director Schmoll at Soho Rep — told us in 2015, “When you hang around the Off Broadway theater scene in New York, you wind up operating under the assumption that everyone out there is doing new work all the time. But then you learn what it takes to get that new work out in front of a broader audience, and you really come to appreciate what people like Two River Theater do.”

In keeping with Two River’s ongoing program of outreach to Latino audiences — a slate that includes the annual summertime Crossing Borders Festival of new plays, and additional programming presented under the Nosotros banner — the theater will offer a special treat for Spanish speakers on the evening of Monday, April 17: a reading of the Meneses script en español, presented under the title Las Mujeres de Padilla and featuring several of the cast members, as well as some guest artists brought in for the occasion. Admission to that 7 p.m. performance is free of charge and open to all, but reservations are required and can be made here or by calling (732)345-1400.

The “homefront” theme is reinforced via a special Operation Homefront Girls Night Out event for “military wives and moms” on Thursday, April 13. A followup to a March 25 “Family Day at the Theater Salute to Our Troops,” the evening invites Blue Star Family wives and mothers to be Two River’s guests for a free 6:30 p.m. pre-show reception in the building’s VIP Library Lounge, prior to that night’s 8 p.m. performance of Padilla.

Then on Friday, April 28, the theater hosts a special benefit performance for the borough-based nonprofit Lunch Break, with a 7 p.m. wine and cheese reception preceding that night’s 8 p.m. show. Tickets for that event are $75, and must be reserved through Lunch Break by emailing Jill at jgwydir@lunchbreak.org.

The Women of Padilla continues with a mix of matinee and evening performances through Sunday, April 30. Regular tickets ($20 – $70) and full schedule details — including info on audio described/ open captioned performances and post-show “talkback” discussions —  are available now on the Two River website or by calling the box office at (732) 345-1400.