My sister Cindy and I use to stick toothpicks into our Barbies’ heads. Sometimes, it was to give them a fashionable up-do. And sometimes, it was just to dishevel their appearances. With the Dream House AND the dune buggy, our Barbies’ lives were a little too perfect. They needed a reality check on life’s hardships. So, we stabbed them! And they never complained. Fast forward to present day, the everlasting Barbie craze continues...
When a young girl opens her birthday present, she’s dismayed to discover a mutilated Barbie with a message scrawled on her back. Mortar Theatre, in conjunction with DCA Storefront Theatre, presents the world premiere of CORAZON DE MANZANA. Women are being hunted in Juarez, Mexico. Last year, 3,100 women were killed. Playwright Dana Lynn Formby spotlights this genocide in a stirring comparison of mothers and daughters. In Mexico, a mother leaves her daughter susceptible to night terrors. In Canada, a mother hovers over her daughter’s quest to be independent. In the USA, a mother raises her daughter with Good Will and sisterly assistance. Three countries, three mothers, three daughters connect in a heartfelt way. CORAZON DE MANZANA is human complexity to the core!
Formby could have titled this “Corazon de Cebolla” because of all the layers. It’s one of those drama-comedy-fantasy-political tragedies about relationships-body image-cultural differences-genocide. I got a big bite of this apple last night and I already made plans to see it again. At the heart of it is the Juarez catastrophe. Under the direction of Jason Boat, the disappearance of a little girl takes on a dreamy and playful vibe. Joshua Volkers (Ferdy) mischievously coaxes Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Mazi) to accompany him to a magical kingdom. In a beautiful dance sequence, choreographed by Mike Ford, Volkers and Gonzalez-Cadel intertwine in poignant whimsy. As the reality of the situation sinks in, I’m incredibly disturbed AND I know this guy... very well... or I thought I did. Volkers is brilliantly unsettling with charming exuberance and just a hint of wolf. Gonzalez-Cadel exudes childlike innocence. Watching her face while clutching Volkers is a heartbreaker. Erica Cruz Hernandez is the desperate mother. Hernandez speaks only Spanish. Without the aid of projected translation, Hernandez communicates clearly agony and frustration.
Cuddling the Juarez showpiece are two other stories dealing with rebel daughters. After visiting the ‘capital of murdered women’, the lighter fare brings some humor. Stephanie Stroud (Callie) is hilarious as an earnest working mom. Stroud’s comedic timing is perfection. Silhouetted behind a screen, Ilyssa Fradin (Barbie) plays the discarded doll. If Barbie could speak, she’d sound just like Fradin! She’s plastic-covered comedy. Characters in all three storylines come together in intermittent dance-like numbers to illustrate the tragic conditions of Juarez. The whimsical technique educates while entertaining. Mortar also uses lighting and projections to add a layer of fantasy and intrigue. A google search projects an alarming number of mass-murder articles. Balancing that heavy reality, another scene with instant messaging is delightfully cute. (Unfortunately, those projections need be more centered because a staggered backdrop swallows some of the words.) The separate stories seem random but then they are not. All the stories tie together in an unexpected conclusion. The gnawing feeling that I didn’t quite get all the nuances throughout the show makes a second helping indisputable.
Juarez disaster aside, there is the over-arching theme of the impact of what we teach our girls. If we tell them fairytales about princesses and give them inaccurately-proportioned dolls, do we set them up for misery? Cindy and I eventually stopped poking toothpicks in our Barbies‘ heads. Not because we bought into society demanding perfection or the subjugation of women. But because my mom took away the toothpicks when my sister Christy stepped on one and had to go to the Emergency Room. Barbie is truly an enemy of the people!
Feeling the play’s impact and describing it in three words, Tom: ‘elliptical, powerful, tragic’ and Jen: ‘powerful & emotive choreography.’
Running Time: Two hours includes a ten minute intermission
At DCA Storefront Theatre, 66 E. Randolph
Written by Dana Lynn Formby
Directed by Jason Boat
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru September 25th
Production photography courtesy of John W. Sisson, Jr.