Cuban-American Playwright Melinda Lopez is much in the news these days. President Obama mentioned her in announcing a renewed open relationship with Cuba. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh declared October 29th as "Melinda Lopez Day." Ms. Lopez brings her very personal play, "Mala," to ArtsEmerson and the Paramount Theater through November 20th. The play was writing while Ms. Lopez was caring for her dying mother, not long after she had also cared for her recently deceased father. This one woman, one act play is a gripping deep dive into examining death, our reaction to it, and how it can encourage us to value life.
The playwright is very transparent in sharing her frustrations and failures as a caregiver and as a dutiful daughter. Her mother proved to be a very difficult patient, refusing to go to the hospital after a fall, and proclaiming her daughter to be "mala" (the embodiment of evil) for her insistence that she should go.
As a writer, Melinda Lopez is powerfully poetic, reflective and pragmatic. As an actor, she is very relaxed portraying the arc of her emotions as she wrestled with issues of illness, life, and death. She also evokes the voices of other women called upon to care for difficult aging parents. At several points in her story, she paused, centered herself and quietly recited a brief litany - a litany that always ended with "and one perfect clementine." When I asked her about the significance of that list of things, she replied that in the darkest hours, those things reminded her of what was worth living for.
The play stares death squarely in the face without being at all morbid. In fact it is just the opposite; it is uplifting. As playwright and performer, Ms. Lopez is a docent who leads the audience through the hallways of the museum of her memory of caregiving, pointing out significant artifacts that have meaning to impart. I walked away with a renewed appreciation for our need to be supportive of those who are near death and the family members who care for them. I also walked away with a spring in my step, ready to find, to savor, and to celebrate the equivalent of a perfect clementine in my life.
Through November 20th
The play is directed by David Dower, with Scenic Design by Kristine Holmes, Lighting by Scott Pinkney, Projections by Garrett Herzig, and Sound by Arshan Gailus.
This remarkable little work of art will run through November 20th at the Paramount Center's Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre.
Arts Emerson Website