In celebration of Black History Month, the non-profit organization Evening Shades presented a festival of plays by African-American and Hispanic writers at the Samuel Beckett Theatre throughout February. The Return of Margarita was developed through improvisations, exercises and interviews with "women of different generations." It is clearly, as stated in the program notes, "a work in progress."
Margarita uses flashbacks and vignettes to tell the life story of Lirio Romero Martinez, matriarch of a large Puerto Rican family living in New York. The action begins and ends as two of Lirio's eight daughters gather for her funeral. They are awaiting the arrival of their niece, Margarita, whom Lirio has raised. Throughout the play, the funeral home scenes are intercut with past events to tell the story of Lirio's life and her influence over her family's life choices. These jumps in time were sometimes confusing. A family chart was provided in the program, which helped somewhat.
Playwright Sandra Rodriguez herself played Lirio, whose name translates into "Lily." Her daughters see her as an unaffectionate control freak. She has planned her own funeral, right down to scheduling private time for each daughter at the funeral home. The onstage family consisted of only four characters: Lirio, two of her daughters, and her granddaughter Margarita.
The daughters, Rosa and Amapola, were played by Nikauri Rodriguez and Samantha Cintron. All three actresses did strong work, rising above dialogue that sometimes lapsed into cliches, as this family is apparently intended to represent a microcosm of Puerto Rican women. Rosa and Amapola act as a sort of Greek chorus, helping the story evolve and taking on other roles as needed, including portraying Margarita at various ages.
The set consisted mainly of pots of flowers displayed around the stage, one for each of Lirio's "flowers." The obvious symbolism carried through to a sunflower placed apart from the other flowers and away from the altar, far downstage left. Girasol, the daughter represented by that arrangement, has become estranged from her mother because of her lesbianism. Girasol has become a successful poet, however, and it seems none of the other daughters is very happy for following more traditional paths.
The message of this play seems to be: treasure your ambition and ability. As cliched as that may sound, The Return of Margarita is a touching, thoughtful theatre work in which the heart of the piece ultimately triumphs over occasionally clumsy editing.
Ricardo Pons composed the excellent score and also performed it live onstage with Luis Raul Romero. The music is almost like an extra character in the play. It constantly underscored the acting, and there were several vocal or dancing numbers. The simplicity of the set worked well in suggesting various locations and time periods, largely due to the cast's talent in establishing the proper mood.
While The Return of Margarita was occasionally hard to follow, it is a moving, well-written piece with strongly motivated characters and a satisfying, though believable, resolution. This production did a good service to a theatre piece with strong foundations. Rodriguez has done well to pursue her own dreams.
Copyright 1996 Rachel-Louise Rubin
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