As I walked into American Stage downtown St. Pete, I was struck in awe by the wondrous set created by scene designer Rodrigo Escalante.
Escalante created scenes for the theater’s production of Carmen Riviera’s OBIE award-winning play, La Gringa.
I experienced two worlds entangled together in that theater. The beautiful, tropical jungle and mountain sides of Puerto Rico surround the living spaces of the extended family of the main protagonist, Maria.
This environment is the visual representation of a theme in this play: the duality of life. This theme can create both harmony and conflict.
The play centers around Maria, a young woman from New York City who, on a journey to find herself, visits her extended family in Puerto Rico.
Angela Reynoso bursts onstage with vibrant energy as Maria, a woman eager to immerse herself in her extended family’s culture. Maria has an ideal image in her mind of life in Puerto Rico. Yet that ideal image clashes with the reality of her family’s life. The story that follows is both a comedy and drama of intergenerational family life.
La Gringa was first performed in New York City in 1996 at Reportorial Español. The company still performs this show, which makes La Gringa the longest-running Off-Broadway Spanish-language production in New York. American Stage’s production is another example of why this play is a success.
This cast works together extraordinarily well. American Stage’s La Gringa is a bilingual production; the dialogue moves back and forth at times from Spanish to English. I could understand and appreciate every moment of this play, regardless of language — an excellent testament to the craft of the actors, the director, and the playwright. The beautiful seamless movement through dual languages, and no meaning is lost.
Cast & Crew
Tatyana-Marie Carlo’s skillful direction assembled a team of performers and designers bringing this family’s world to life.
Alina Alcántara is fierce as Norma, the protective and, at times, paranoid matriarch of the family. Victor Souffrant plays her attentive husband, Victor, with great focus. Germaine Lebrón plays their young farmer neighbor, Ramon Monchi, who has eyes for Maria with steadfast determination.
Pedro Bayón plays Manolo. Norma’s bedridden brother finds his spirit for life renewed during his niece Maria’s stay. Bayón plays the role of Manolo with such nuance and depth that I wanted more time with his character.
Jessy Julianna plays Norma’s job-seeking, stressed daughter, Iris. Julianna crackles with energy when she walks on stage. As one of Tampa Bay’s best young performers, Julianna always delivers outstanding work.
Shahrzad Mazaheri’s costumes accentuate each character’s story. Christina Watanabe’s lighting and Germán Martinez’s sound design sharpen the story. I recommend audiences experience this production at American Stage. It is a great story about identity, duality, and acceptance.