Photo courtesy of Alan Goldfarb
On Sunday, September 11, Sandra Cisneros finally attended the José Rubén De León-directed stage version of The House on Mango Street
at The Classic Theatre. Her verdict? Two enthusiastic thumbs up… and a few tears down her cheek.
“Sandra wept most of the time,” De León told the Current
. “She thanked each actor personally, signed their scripts and wept some more.”
According to De León, Cisneros made Kelly Roush, the theatre’s executive director, commit to producing one Latino work per season. “[Roush] said yes,” said De León, but the executive director has a slightly different recollection of the events.
“It has been an exciting time with this production of Mango Street
opening our 9th season,” Roush told the Current
via email. “We were thrilled to have Sandra join us last weekend, and when I briefly got to speak with her, she said she ‘hoped’ we would produce more Latino plays, preferably one a year, and I told her we would like to produce more as we move forward. There are great classic Latino plays that we feel are important stories to share and we look forward to making them a part of our coming seasons. We did not ‘commit’ at this time to one a year in specific, but we hope to move forward with connecting to our San Antonio community in this way.”
The following are parts of the email Cisneros sent De León after the performance [the Spanish accents are all mine… yeah, I’m anal about it].
“José, what a wonderful production. You did a tremendous job, especially with young Bella [Villarreal, who took over the young Esperanza role eight days before opening night on September 2]. I’ve never seen a child do this role. Pretty amazing … How did you get Bella to project? She worked hard, you could tell, and managed to learn all those lines in such a short time. What a young pro … And all the characters! [Fifty-four] you said? I couldn’t keep up with how many voices and changes of personalities.
Pacing was good. Play did not drag for this viewer.
I think Gypsy [Pantoja, in the role of older Esperanza as the play’s narrator] was the most professional, but everyone, even the smallest characters, had a glorious moment.
Thank you for working so hard to make this production respectful and loving. It came out bonito bonito. Filled with grace and made me proud to call this performance something connected to me.
My favorite moments — the photo factory, [especially] the actor who played the Asian man [Gabriel Sánchez].”
One of the scenes that touched Cisneros the most was when Lucy, Rachel and Little Esperanza make fun of the blind Aunty Lupe. But her praise came with a suggestion for De León.
“Aunty Lupe's scene makes me weep. Is it just me? Just slow down that last line, ‘And then we began to dream the dreams.’” Says De León: “Sandra wept because the scene brought back memories of [her] aunt.”
In one single paragraph, Cisneros managed to detect what the actors did and the nature of the Spanish language, even though this was an English-language play.
“Tell the actors I know the text so well I knew when they changed a word or forgot and replaced a word, even though I don’t know the book by heart … but I do know the rhythms of the book, which are singsongy because even though the text is in English, the rhythms are in Spanish, and that’s why the sentences sound like music … Speaking Spanish sounds like birds singing. Syntax and [the] way of looking at the world is very indigenous-based.
I loved [María Ibarra’s] portrayals. She was always interesting to watch, most especially when she played the three comadres.”
Other favorites: Elenita the witch woman [Eraina Porras] and Ruthie [Arianna Angeles]. “Sad and funny both of them all at once.”
She was particularly impressed with Angeles, who “has a softness, a vulnerability to her that came through her eyes in her characters. So beautiful to watch her.” Again, from the email:
“And the guys, each one of them unique, each impressed me with what they did as minor characters who they fleshed out fully. Salvador’s father and Mother Superior [played by Salvador Valadez] — he can do both drama and comedy. And [Joshua Segovia], the young man who did such a great job with Geraldo and with Darius and [Gabriel Sánchez] as the Asian man who stole the kiss at the photo factory. Louie’s cousin was a favorite. Everyone was terrific in that one, [especially] Louie [played by Sánchez].
I loved the bicycle scene. So fun.
And the tension in the Monkey Garden.
Lots and lots of good moments. Please relay my thanks. I could go on and on. But I am very proud of everyone’s work. They worked so hard. Again, mil gracias for all your love and labor. I wish Amy [Ludwig, who wrote the adaptation] could see this production.
All showings of the play, which runs until September 25, have been sold out. The Classic Theatre has a 99-seat capacity.