“Enfrascada” a spellbinding portrait of obsession
Renaissance Theaterworks' season opener follows a woman who'll do anything to regain the man she loves.
For about five minutes, Enfrascada, the season opener for Renaissance Theaterworks, feels like a Latina riff on Sex and the City or Girls. Lights come up on three young women, on a day-trip to see a boyfriend headline a rock concert, chattering away with a rhythm that belongs to no one except true friends. And then one call makes Enfrascada a very different sort of play – one with a heartfelt core and surprising depth.
That call is made by lead character Alicia (Rana Roman), but it’s answered by Bethany – the woman Alicia’s boyfriend of nine years, Diego, is leaving her for. Alicia’s best friends, the fiery Yesenia (Yadira Correa) and empathetic Carolina (Yunuen Pardo) try and convince her to leave him behind as well, but Alicia resists, still holding out hope that he’ll realize his mistake and come back to her.
So, being her best friends, they offer a unique suggestion: visit one of their señoras (all played by Annie Henk), a collection of wise women whose magic methods have been part of the comunidad Latina for generations.
This is not the curveball of a premise as it appears. Playwright Tanya Saracho based the folk magic depicted in Enfrascada on information culled from interviews with hundreds of Latina women, all of whom have had experience with this semi-open secret.
Saracho could have easily played this folk magic as mere superstition or truly supernatural. She treads a wiser ground: maybe it’s magic; maybe it isn’t; maybe it’s both. For example, an “Intranquil” spell designed to make a man interested in a woman again may require a sack of magic components, but it also requires her to dodge his calls. Which half works is in the eye of the beholder.
But focusing on the magic misses what makes Enfrascada more than just a dramatic curiosity. The play is not a story about a woman who turns to magic to get her lover back; it’s a story about a woman whose entire life unravels, and her obsession to get her old life back.
By necessity such a story hinges on Alicia, and Roman is simply spellbinding. She must in truth play two characters – a shaken, by-the-book realist and a desperate, magic-mad zealot – and Roman’s slide from one to the other is a glorious-to-watch tragedy.
Correa and Pardo sync perfectly with her, their often-overlapping conversations fitting together like puzzle pieces. They serve as the play’s moral barometers, pushing Alicia out of her comfort zone only until she begins to consider black magic/unscrupulous methodology.
Karen Estrada offers a counterpoint as Alicia’s very-not-Latina cousin Lulu. Her naïveté allows for some great gags, especially with her polar opposite Yesenia, although I can’t help but wish Saracho had found more for her to do. Correa and Pardo get the lion’s share of the interactions with Roman, and especially closer to the end of the play Estrada’s character feels extraneous at times.
And as much as this play isn’t about the magic, Henk does her best to convince us otherwise. Her three roles – a boisterous Hoodoo woman, paranoid water diviner and a terrifying bruja – are Alicia’s descent into darkness in broad brushstrokes, and she commands the stage in every appearance.
Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of Enfrascada runs through November 11 at the Broadway Theatre Center. Tickets are $36 and can be purchased at (414) 291-7800 or RTW’s website.