Hot passion and lust scorches the West End Theatre in Desi Moreno-Penson’s searing new play Comida De Puta, that takes elements of Greek tragedy and sets them in the Boogie Down Bronx. The evening, thick with desire, rhythm, magic and poetry, teases primal human emotions to a thrilling climax you won’t soon forget. … Moreno-Penson’s text is rich and filled with a true love of everything gothic. Fans of magical realism and gothic literature will be particularly interested in this one. It delves into our most basic fears and needs. She infuses the script with a great deal of beautiful, poetic language and juxtaposes all that with some rather foul language. In the same way, she creates characters that are equally dynamic and filled with contradictions. Laluz, for example, is sweet and spicy at times but then she turns around and embodies the evil woman plotting to crush your soul. There is also a fantastic character who represents the chorus in a Greek tragedy. He is a one-man chorus with a Nuyorican attitude who perfectly ties the play together. The play’s director, Lorca Peress, pumps up the tension with action and proximity while creating lovely stage pictures. The production uses video projections (Jan Hartley and Christopher Marston) to help tell the tragic tale. The videos are of ghosts/events from the past and they also help propel the story into the uncertain future. They are projected on the evocative and cleverly designed set (Christopher and Justin Swader) made of scrim and wood as well as the back wall that is curved like a cyclorama. The light design (Alex Moore) is colorful and dazzling and the nuanced sound design (David Margolin Lawson) is quite rousing. There is also a fantastic bucket percussionist (LaFrae Sci) who sits just off stage right banging out a steamy rhythm underneath everything. There is great fight choreography (Logan McCoy) and beautiful designed and built costumes and masks (Lisa Renee Jordan). Overall, the production value here is incredibly high. I was truly impressed with every element. The ensemble is solid. They sink deeply into their characters and use the heightened language to deliver some powerful monologues and scenes. Mariana Parma’s Laluz is captivating and vibrant. I loved to hate her. Alex R. Hernandez plays Sotero with effortlessness realism. I was particularly taken in by his romantic scene at the top of Act 2 with the girl he really loves, Alcidia, who is played brilliantly by Darlenis Duran. Gustavo Heredia poignantly plays Viejo with a perfect balance of power and powerlessness. Roseanne Almanzar is great as the unheard voice of reason, Rosalia, who tries to help Laluz turn things around before it’s too late. In the end, it is Marcos Sotomeyer who owns the evening with his charismatic and charming one-man chorus character. … Comida De Puta is a play that accomplishes what theatre does best – the dissection of human emotion. And seeing it in the echoing, domed space of the West End Theater make the experience that much more powerful and mystical. This is hip, modern tragedy at its very best.
– Richard Hinojosa, NYtheater now
The poetic new play Comida de Puta (F%&king Lousy Food) is a magic, media, and rhythm-infused retelling of the Greek myth Phaedra set in the present-day, gentrifying Bronx. … Writer Desi Moreno-Penson succeeds in making all the characters three-dimensional, including Sotero and Alcidia, with their layers of late-teen unchecked aggressiveness mixed with innocence and idealism. I tend to dislike Theseus in most retellings of Phaedra, but Moreno-Penson (and actor Gustavo Heredia) made Laluz’s husband sympathetic as a small business owner watching his legacy collapse in the face of a corporate giant, while simultaneously making clear that there is a dark undercurrent to his attitude towards women. … The connection between Laluz and the spirits did feel magnetic and real, and the spirits themselves are brought to life with beautiful masks, headpieces, lights, and choreography. … Comida de Puta is an intriguing re-imagining of an ancient tale that still resonates with audiences today. It is well worth the trip to the beautiful West End Theater in the Upper West Side.
– Selena Burns, Arts in Color
The play’s title Comida De Puta is, presumably, a reference to the food and real estate wars, as well as to the sexual theme at the heart of the Phaedra story. The tragic architecture of the myth is stark and essential. The lust of a new wife for the son of her husband from a previous union leads to retribution and death. Around that core, the director Lorca Peress keeps the play’s swirl of subsidiary dramas in enough check to maintain the tragedy, especially when it emerges in the second act with great dramatic and psychological power. The center holds amid a plethora of topical concerns, not just gentrification but also gender relations. The persons of the tragedy are remarkably equal in Moreno-Penson’s version: Laluz is central but not dominant, and the actors are, for their part, uniformly strong. … Alex R. Hernandez as Sotero, the sexually desired son (Hippolytus in the original), and Darlenis Duran as Alcidia, the young woman with whom he is in love, have, near the start of the second act, the most touching moments of the play. Sotero and Alcidia are blameless in the tragedy, misunderstood and falsely maligned, she as sexually loose, he as unmanly. When they meet after Sotero flees the bodega to avoid Laluz’s advances, the hesitant dance of their feelings is tenderly involving. Peress has managed, here and throughout, to infuse the classic ambiance with a contemporary honesty. Duran strikes this note all the more impressively since, at the end of the previous act, she enacts one if the play’s most stylized and magic realist sequences. … Peress’s stagecraft is, in this Multistages production, diverse and multi-framed. There’s a substantial video component, in which Jane Velez-Mitchell plays a reporter on the scene and Dennis Gagamiros the capitalistically cynical Minos, flack for the grocery chain. Also on tape are Vebnuz Delmar, Mykal Monroe, Suni Reyes, Anita Velez, and Almanzar in a second role. Framing the whole is a drummer, Lafrae Sci, and a Chorus, Marcos Sotomayor, who establishes the larger cultural context and doubles as Alcidia’s disapproving brother Manny. … The Phaedra tale has been retold more than once, starting with Euripides. Racine’s Phèdre is one of the greatest of all tragic dramas, and O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms remains a queasily disquieting American drama. I was never tempted to compare COMIDA DE PUTA to any of those: it states its own terms and stands by them.
– John Osburn, http://osburnt.com/
In The Island of No Tomorrows, …the denouement is a happy one, celebrated in song as is each of the developments in this loosely plotted show that is unlike anything else you are likely to see on Broadway or Off this season. Reed and Paris have written songs … that are most appealing if not memorable. Pedro Carmo, a major talent …The surrogate mothers are all endowed with beautiful voices … as are the beautiful Cruz as Maria and the winning young actress Kinney making her New York debut. … Beautiful environments by projection designer Jan Hartley.
— Frederic A. Winship, UPI
Lorca Peress wisely directs … Alexis Lauren Kinney is electric as Esperanza, making all her scenes crackle with vitality. Veronica Cruz delivers an engaging Maria. Jan Hartley provides haunting and unobtrusive projections. Effective lyrics by Gael … Catchy, propulsive music by Anika Paris and N.B. Reed
– Clifford Lee Johnson III, Backstage
Vibrant visuals. Music and song are central … and the sound of the production is a key to the overall structure. The colorful dress of the mothers, the projected images of paintings, rolling hills, and eventually the sparkly contrast of music videos and Hollywood are like another character in the play. An interesting and enjoyable piece, best approached as fantasy and appreciated as a modern-day fairy tale.
– Kessa De Santis, Electronic Link Journey
Lorca Peress offered an enchanting and mystical journey into the world of Villa Leche, especially thanks to the brilliant projection design of Jan Hartley, the fine lighting design of Joyce Liao and the equally fine costumes of Jessa-Raye Court and Mark Richard-Caswell. ISLAND is not so much a musical or even a play about music as it is a play about singing, and the haunting songs are the work of Anika Paris, N.B. Reed and Bruce Baumer. The cast featured an outstanding ensemble, including Pedro Carmo as Don Hilardo, Veronica Cruz as Maria and, as the committee of mid-wives, Richarda Abrams, Debra Cardona, Lina Sarrello, Jen Anaya and Alexis Sweeney. Alexis Lauren Kinney, who plays Esperanza, completely blew us out of the water when she opened her mouth to sing in Act Two.
– Jaz Dorsey, African American Playwrights Exchange
Velez-Mitchell’s “Temple” is SANCTIFIED!!!
Anybody who makes the careless statement, “There is no such thing anymore as a quality musical in New York by unknown songwriters,” has clearly not visited the West End Theatre at 263 West 86th Street, where MultiStages is currently presenting Temple of the Souls. With a book and libretto by legendary poetess and performer Anita Velez-Mitchell (yes, the mother of newscaster Jane from the Headline News Network on cable), music by the seamless team of Dean Landon and Anika Paris, and effortless direction by Lorca Peress (who also designed the amazing sets) and splendid choreography by Milteri Tucker, the show is proof positive that no great effort goes unrewarded. In point of fact, and in a season where even the New York Musical Theater Festival was barely able to display anything that might be considered Broadway-worthy, this brilliant show has every ounce of potential to head straight to the top and beyond… Jen Anaya, a true star in the making, is absolutely splendiferous as Amada, as is Joshua Torrez as Guario. Ricardo Puente comes across almost as a Latino George Hearn in his embodiment of Severo … Kenneth Kyle Martinez is indescribably delicious as Nemesio … Robmariel Olea as Nana, with her extreme facial beauty along with impressive talents as a vocalist and physical movements … The ensemble of six women and four men are absolutely sparkling throughout, the easy standout being Bradley D. Gale, with a set of tenor pipes that virtually guarantee his future success on Broadway. … Bruce Baumer has done a bang-up job with the musical direction, as played by conductor/pianist Evan Closser, Sam Chernoff on cello and Joe Fee on percussion besides additional orchestrations that are pre-recorded. Of equal note, are Alex Moore’s lighting design, Mark-Richard Caswell’s incredible costumes, Josh Milligan’s sound design and Kyla McHale’s masterful masks and puppetry. Temple of the Souls … a sure bet to ride the showbiz train to far greater glory.
NitelifeExchange.com by Andrew Martin, Review Dec. 23, 2011 (Link)
Director Lorca Peress makes the scenes involving the central characters crisp and pointed… Milteri Tucker’s choreography provides welcome energy … Jen Anaya’s Amada comes to life when she releases her inner Taino … Joshua Torrez underplays Guario, rendering him less heroic but more endearing; Ricardo Puente fittingly chews scenery as the bombastic Don Severo; Kenneth Kyle Martinez, as Nemesio, brings personal charm to a role that could have been a cliche; and Robmariel Olea convincingly limns Nana as a woman torn between conflicting loves for her daughter and her lover. … Mark Richard-Caswell’s costumes elegantly draw the distinction between Europeans and Caribbeans, and Peress’ set wisely provides a bare stage that allows action to shift effortlessly from town to mountaintop. … The “Temple of the Souls” … score, which is filled with accessible melodies in an Andrew Lloyd Webber vein. “I’m Not Dreaming,” a duet sung by Amada and Guario, is as achingly tender a ballad as I’ve heard all year. MultiStages can be proud for having introduced us to this songwriting trio. I hope we hear more from them.
Backstage.com, reviewed by Clifford Lee Johnson III, December 11, 2011 (Link)
“The Truth, though bitter, will set us free.”
Anita Vélez Mitchell wrote the bitter truth about the colonial racism that covered the beautiful island of Puerto Rico during its encounter with the Euro-Spanish civilization. The Temple of the Souls is a hidden place where pure love endures between vapors of fantasy, blessing the love between two beings of different races, joined by the Great Creator of the Universe’s love. It was a great show at The West End Theatre on 263 W 86th Street, off Broadway. The subtlety of the writer conceals a sublime tactic that dresses up a tragic reality with an example of love and forgiveness. She uses a dramatic yet simple plot to reach the intense climax that ends a racial intrigue uniting two nations with blood and injustice. She skillfully wraps her performers in hateful actions that later return to hurt them, humanizing them with their harrowing pain and finding peace in Holy forgiveness. Dean Landon and Anika Paris developed the operatic music that toned down tragedy with sounds of coquí and fantasy shadows, embellishing the green nature … we heard gypsy chants that covered the environment with palmares and flamboyanes with their air of music. … Director Lorca Peress successfully marked precise pauses and rhythms that maintained an alarming expectation by creating well rehearsed dramatic tension. Her contagious enthusiasm is shown all over her production. Her staging ability shows great wisdom with its results. A great production.
LA VOZ HISPANA – Review by Angel Premier Solis (translated from Spanish by Laura Riveros)
If you want to see a stark, candid and vivid depiction of the everyday lives of New Orleans natives before everything went wrong on that August day in 2005 and then follow the chaos, great sense of loss and tragedy that followed, then you need to see “Hell and High Water, or Lessons for When the Sky Falls” at the Hudson Guild Theatre on West 26th Street. …The play, which is presented by MultiStages and is its 2009 New Works Winner, is the brainchild of New Orleans native Jamuna Yvette Sirker, who was there during the horrible disaster. There are so many truths about the Hurricane Katrina disaster that are brought out in this production. Sirker shows a very creative side with some of the unusual ways that she chooses to get her points across. The production has a talented ensemble cast … It also has the marvelous and moving direction of Lorca Peress, who is the artistic director of MultiStages.
NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS – Review by Linda Armstrong
The most compelling element of Sirker’s script is the authentic depiction of the United States government’s utter inability to assemble a proper recovery effort. … Director Lorca Peress takes the two prominent scenes on this front and stages them memorably. To the actors’ and director’s credit, they find a way to endow the characters’ losses with full weight. … MultiStages brings to fruition a worthwhile story in Hell and High Water, and it is obvious that their creative team has put effort into this production.
NYTHEATRE.COM – Review by Nathaniel Kressen
Fortunately, Jamuna Yvette Sirker’s new play Hell and High Water or Lessons When the Sky Falls at MultiStages (its 2009 New Works winner) brings us one of these stories, drawing on the author’s personal experience as one of the many residents displaced by the disaster. … The production’s strongest performances are given by the actors playing its supernatural characters. Joyce Griffen, as Alice’s spirit guide, Bag L, delivers her character’s earthy wisdom effortlessly and is endearing throughout. Federick Mayer, as the larger-than-life drag queen Katrina-Hiroshima, takes the stage as the embodiment of the hurricane with all the devastating force his character’s name suggests. The rest of the actors are well suited to their roles, and under Lorca Peress’s direction, this motley crew of friends comes together as the perfect ensemble. … Jan Hartley’s projection design features photos documenting post-Katrina New Orleans and news coverage of the disaster. Peress’s set design, though a hodgepodge of interiors and exteriors in the first act, eloquently underscores the characters’ loss in the second by placing all that is left of their possessions behind them as a backdrop. In the end, though this is clearly a low-budget production, what it lacks in dazzle it certainly makes up for in sheer storytelling power, reminding us that sometimes our stories are all that we have.
SHOW BUSINESS WEEKLY – Review by Giovanni Palumbo
A survivor of Hurricane Katrina, playwright Jamuna Yvette Sirker has conjured up a Greek-tragedy inspired sensibility to tell a handful of tales of the recent American tragedy. …Director Peress and the ensemble cast have embraced the hurricane style of the play’s structure, which can at times be unsettling, but is certainly a story that needs to be told, and through the filter of someone who was there, and not just reporting on it.
ELECTRONIC LINK JOURNEY – Review by Kessa De Santis
“BIGGER THAN LIFE!” MultiStages, under the great direction of multifaceted Lorca Peress, presented the production of Hell and High Water, or Lessons for When the Sky Falls. … the author is herself a survivor of the natural disaster equal to a cine-verité onstage. True suffering cannot be invented. Her sensibility is visible. … The direction lifted the text to the extreme, uncovering the humor in the tragedy which is a positive effect in such a tremendous production. This is a new work that has the potential to be included among the classics that document history. The work is Kafkaesque in its criticism of bureaucracy that ignored the suffering of its people, e.g., the infinite government forms that solve nothing. It shows the chaotic state of our government that failed to resolve this tragedy. It is hard to believe that our country became a third world nation in which its people had to survive without hope or compassion…. Among the actors, Richarda Abrams … Her characterization was brilliant. Anna Lamadrid … an impeccable actress. Joyce Griffen superbly personified the third world in North America… Paul Christian Mischeshin … a great actor. Frances Chewning … an experienced actress. Cary Hite … his analysis of the character was exact. Frederick Mayer … His presence rises to the third dimension. A marvelous character, and a marvelous actor. Ross DeGraw and Russell Jordan bring to the scene a prodigious naturalism that belies the impending doom. … The prestigious director Lorca Peress demonstrates with this satirical play that she is a stupendous and talented director. Do not miss this North American classic because you will emerge educated in matters you cannot fathom.
LA VOZ HISPANA – Theatre Review by Angél Premier Solís
“Hell and High Water, or Lessons for When the Sky Falls” joins the short list of books, movies, and plays about Hurricane Katrina. Thankfully, in this instance, the playwright, Jamuna Yvette Sirker, skillfully gives her attention to a small handful of victims and weaves humor tightly in with the tragedy. … It’s Bag L (Joyce Griffen) who steals the show. Animating the stage throughout the play, her acting is enhanced by body movements and gestures … as the spirit responsible for helping Teacher Alice grow in awareness, she’s both comic and sober in her instructions. … Another voice of warning is that of the drag-queen, Katrina- Hiroshima, played flamboyantly— complete with feathers, boas, and towering wigs—by Frederick Mayer. … The playwright is supremely skilled in mixing horror with humor in Katrina’s scenes. … Lorca Peress’ interesting set allows for the terrible hurricane wreckage to be hidden until late in the play, and Jan Hartley’s striking projection designs open with lovely images of blue skies but soon give way to the horrors of broken houses, floating houses and devastated interiors. … Despite its two-hour plus running time, “Hell and High Water” rewards the audience’s patience with its focused look at Hurricane Katrina and her devastating consequences.
NEW YORK BEACON – Review by Ernece B. Kelly
The historical story of currently incarcerated Latina serial killer Dorothea Puente, who dispatched elderly and drifter residents of her Sacramento boarding house, makes terrific dramatic material in Mary Fengar Gail’s fictionalized The Judas Tree. … Voluptuous landlady Elena Fiero (played with defiant intensity by the comely Roseanne Medina) … a strong supporting cast, particularly Daniel H. Hicks in the dual roles of the concerned uncle and an elderly boarder, Colleen Cosgrove as a chatty boarder and expert witness, and José Febus in several roles…
BackStage, by Christopher Murray
When the mesmerizing Elena Abril Fiero casts her spell it is nearly impossible to escape entanglement, obsession, something akin to rapture. This near-religious experience is perfectly realized by the cast and artistic crew presenting Mary Fengar Gail’s The Judas Tree, a journey into madness. Gail’s world, in which the beautiful and the macabre live side by side, is stunningly rendered with superb acting, a grim chorus, and subtle lighting effects. …
offoffonline.com, by Maura O’Brien
The Judas Tree, deftly directed by Lorca Peress … John Haggerty performs this heightened text with clarity and precision. … the play also incorporates a Greek chorus … [who] sing, dance, and act as a living embodiment of the Brechtian alienation effect. Their presence is also a clear reminder that this is the world of theatre, not a window on reality. … Roseanne Medina is chilling in her portrayal of Elena. …Daniel H. Hicks, José Febus, and Colleen Cosgrove are also particularly notable for their abilities to portray the troubled tenants of Elena’s rooming house realistically and empathetically and then switch to playing key members of the courtroom drama. …Each character is unique and nuanced …This play is abstract and disturbing, yet its relevance to our world is undeniable. …Gail’s play astutely reminds us that there are no clear answers in questions of belief. It also highlights the idea that a person’s exterior tells us nothing about who she really is.
nytheatre.com, by Kelly Aliano
MultiStages’ latest offering is Mary Fengar Gail’s true-crime inspired The Judas Tree. With the production company’s signature “multidisciplinary fusion and multicultural themes” securely in place, this wolf in sheep’s clothing tale of a serial killer in a tight skirt takes on an unlikely, mythic edge to impressive effect. The supporting characters each have their own energy to infuse, and the fine ensemble cast, sometimes in multiple roles, serve the playwright and director well.…The ultimate touch is the 5-person Chorus Corpus Flora, who dance and sing, elevating the play to someplace beyond drama, yet somewhere other than the comfort and predictability of musical theater. …The Judas Tree represents a notable addition to MultiStages’ expanding production history. As always, I look forward to the next one.
Electronic Link Journey Review, by Kessa De Santis
“Knowing Bliss is ambitiously directed by Lorca Peress, who uses multimedia and dance in a fascinating manner. Blanche Baker acts the hell out of the part … she explores the nuances of this character with a comedic flair as well as subtle dramatic strength.”
Frank J. Avela, NY Cool
“[In Knowing Bliss], Candice Waugh Myers is most impressive as the anxiety ridden Bliss … Blanche Baker is both hilarious and poignant as Laura …. Carlos Fittante’s masked Coyote character moves well to David Amram’s music,… the landscape can also be seen directly behind center stage on a giant projector screen. Arden Kass is a gutsy playwright and quite possibly a genius.”
Ben Butler, Showbusiness Weekly
“Under the nimble direction of Lorca Peress, … Day of Reckoning reflects the commitment of MultiStages to theater that incorporates diverse art forms… Ghoulish paper-maché puppets (created by Lorca Peress) … and Adam Larsen’s muted video projections on the draped scrim at back enrich the drama.
Deidre McFadyen, OffOffOnline
“[Novel is]… thought provoking, intriguing, well acted and directed!”
Richard Bey, WABC Radio
“[Novel is]…a play for a thinking cast and audience … With so much forced holiday cheer out there, why not try something real — A THEATRICAL ANTIDOTE!”
Kessa De Santis, Electronic Link Journey
“[Novel director], Lorca Peress … never pushes Citriniti and Bardwell past the honesty of whatever characters they play. …Peress’ frequent use of stylized movement is a nice touch, perfectly appropriate for a genuine memory play. There’s also smart work evident in the minimal set and costumes by Marc Borders, evocative lighting by D.A. Strawder, and novel original music by Anika Paris and Dean Landon.”
Leonard Jacobs, Back Stage
“[Novel was] well directed by Lorca Peress with fine performances by its three-person cast.”
— Chelsea/Clinton News
“The Palace of Loneliness …is a comprehensive and theatrically diverse new work ….”
Kessa De Santis, Electronic Link Journey
“Strong performances by the actors!”
John Andanov, Show Business Weekly