The moment arrived so suddenly and vividly that it made me catch my breath.
Michelle Lopez-Rios turns into a grieving father and for two minutes he rails at his government for not helping to find his daughter who has been missing for over 4,000 days.
Her entire speech is in Spanish and I don’t speak a word of Spanish.
But I understood exactly what she said and it’s that ability of Ms. Lopez-Rios to slide fully into the skin of a man torn by his grief that marks the strength of “The Way She Spoke,” the Isaac Gomez play that just opened at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
This is a troubling play about a troubling true story – the steady and unfathomable murder of women over three decades in Juarez, the Mexican town just across the border from El Paso, the Texas home of Mr. Gomez.
It’s a play about the journey of a playwright to Juarez for research for a play he is writing.
The setup has Mr. Gomez, accompanied by a friend who lives in Juarez, Blanca, embarking on a journey that is increasingly chilling in its discovery of the breadth and depth of this ongoing horror.
During the 80 minutes of this show Ms. Lopez-Rios slides between a stunning variety of characters, both herself as an actor reading the play of a friend, Mr. Gomez, and the playwright.
She also is a mother who has lost her daughter, the father, a murderer full of macho and, perhaps most horrifyingly, a man surrounded by friends who calls Blanca out in the most profane ways as she stands at the counter of a small convenience store.
This production is a striking demonstration of the most sensitive kind of direction you could imagine. The temptations for Lisa Portes when handed this olay, are many.
It would have been easy to use a wide variety of theatrical elements to hang heavily over this play, using lights and sound and images to enhance the structure of the play.
But she wisely understood that in this particular case, less is more. Keep it simple and it is that simplicity that allows for the unstoppable pathway to the heart-stopping end.
All of the surrounding elements, lights, sound, brilliant projections by Stephen Hudson-Mairet and costumes are, at their most obvious, only atmospheric. They are gentle arms that surround the body of the production, the center that is Ms.Lopez-Rios.
Doing a one woman play is a challenging task for both an audience and the actor who is performing. Ms. Lopez-Rios is marvelous in both her grasp of different characters and her dedication to the core of this horrible story. Watching her descent into the grasp of this butchery is both moving and mesmerizing which is exactly what it’s like watching this production.
The Way She Spoke runs through April 11 and tickets are available at www.milwaukeechambertheatre. Org.
Production credits: Additional voices: Amy Cruz,Liz Mary Hernandez; Stage manager, Briana J. Fahey; Production designer, JulieAhlgrim; Scenic and projection designer, Stephen Hudson-Mairet; Costume designer, Jasmin Aurora Medina; Lighting designer, Ellie Rabinowitz; Composer and sound designer, Christie Chiles Twillie; Production photographer, Paul Ruffalo; Videography and Editing, Studio Gear, Kimberly Beggs, LoganAllen, Derek Buggles.