Beginning with a 1 p.m. performance Wednesday, seven opportunities remain for the general public to catch The Women of Padilla, the latest in an ever-growing portfolio of plays that have made their world premiere on the Red Bank stage of Two River Theater.
Written by Tony Meneses (whose previously produced project here was Guadalupe in the Guest Room), the drama is an ensemble piece that reflects an ongoing commitment by the theater company to develop and promote new works by Latino creators. It’s also a succinct and slightly surreal piece with an underlying universal quality — a glimpse at the home front in a time of seemingly eternal war, as well as the ways in which we find family, build community, and latch onto gossamer wings of hope whenever something important goes missing from our lives.
Set in various kitchens within a small Mexican town — a domestic landscape that exists a world away from an unspecified conflict that involves everyone from Portugal and Peru to Iceland, Cameroon and Monaco — The Women paints a group portrait of eight characters, the wives of eight brothers who have marched off to battle, just trying to make sense of it all, as they attempt to “fill in the blank spaces with each other.”
There’s the widowed Mari (Jacqueline Correa), “the one who quietly leads;” Carmen (New York Drama Desk nominee Jeanine Serralles), “the one who drinks;” Marta (Keren Lugo), “the one with faith;” and Alejandra (Paloma Guzmán, owner of numerous TV and Off Broadway credits), “the one who’s expecting.”
Add to that lineup Cristina (Elizabeth Ramos), “the one who’s young;” Fidela (Daniella De Jesús, seen on Orange is the New Black and other TV projects), “the one who’s taciturn;” Lucha (Helen Cespedes, who appeared with Daniel Radcliffe in Broadway’s The Cripple of Inishmaan), “the one with poetry” — and, keeping her distance except for those occasional pleas for money — Blanca (Karina Arroyave, who appeared as Jamey Farrell on TV’s 24), “the one on the outside.” All eight actresses are new to the Red Bank stage, while two-time Obie winning director Ken Rus Schmoll previously worked with Two River on the world premiere comedy Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England.
Those little identifiers help the audience to get a quick read on the various players, all of whom have a brief and busy window (the roughly 90-minute play is presented without an intermission) in which to make an impression. But while the unseen husbands remain the most vaguely sketched of concepts, another presence hovers above the action at all times: the pigeon, a “winged messenger” of grim news from the front lines, and a creature whose appearances (as realized through the creative contributions of James Ortiz and Will Gallacher) cast a jarring shadow over the proceedings.
Caught up in the cycle of grief and uncertainty, the poetically minded Lucha takes to playing the part of a sort of “pigeon sister” herself: a figure whose presence seems to foretell “something terrible,” even as she holds a bit of winged wisdom to impart to her fellow Padilla women. The script, which claims a degree of inspiration from the work of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, has a little something to say about the ways in which a ray of hope can pierce the thunderclouds of war, and in which a healing word and thought can take wing.
The Women of Padilla continues with a mix of matinee and evening performances through Sunday. Regular tickets ($20 – $70) are available now on the Two River website or by calling the box office at (732)345-1400.
For Friday night performance, the theater hosts a special benefit for the borough-based nonprofit Lunch Break, with a 7 p.m. wine and cheese reception. Tickets are $75, and must be reserved through Lunch Break by emailing Jill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The current season at Two River Theater concludes with one of the company’s most highly anticipated (and longest gestating) projects, one that marks the Red Bank directorial debut of artistic director John Dias. Adapted from the 1993 film of the same name, the original musical The Ballad of Little Jo tells the based-on-fact story of Josephine Monagahan, a disgraced young woman from a well-to-do family who disguises herself as a man in a 19th-century Idaho town. Going up in previews June 3 (and opening on June 11), the show boasts a book by Dias and a score of songs by ex-NFL’er Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger, the composing team that previously created the Two River originals In This House and A Wind in the Willows Christmas.
There’s more on Little Jo to come in these paperless pages of redbankgreen — and be sure to check our AllGood section for news on another June event at Two River: a four-day engagement of The Way Back Home, a children’s musical that will present a special June 10 “sensory-friendly” performance for young theatergoers with autism.