- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

“Yemaya’s Belly” is a gut-souring mixture of Caribbean folklore, Santeria spirituality, and the hackneyed story of a young boy’s journey to a new world.

The 85-minute play, now onstage at Signature Theatre, was sparked by stories Miss cwAlegria Hudes was told by her father, who was born in rural Puerto Rico, although the locale of “Yemaya’s Belly” resembles Cuba in its dictatorship and proclivity of its natives to attempt an escape by boat in the middle of the night.

Her father related a charmingly naive tale about the first time he had a bottle of refrigerated Coke, which was so cold it “burned” his hands. A similar experience turns around the life of Jesus/Mulo (played by Jose Aranda) during his first trip to the big city.

Drinking the fizzy soda, which he says is “pleasure and pain all at the same time in your mouth,” opens up a realm of possibilities beyond his humble home.

Jesus’ story forms the wobbly crux of “Yemaya’s Belly,” as the boy moves from an innocent jaunt to the city with his wiser uncle Jelin (Clifton Alphonzo Duncan) to tragedy, after a fire ravages their village while they are gone. In an instant, Jesus has become an orphan, toting a barrel filled with rice and pennies and seeking his destiny.

His fate is tied to a girl, Maya (Saskia de Vries), who is obsessed with Spam and the sea. Armed with cans of the potted meat and bottles of Coke, they escape on a boat and nearly perish before being rescued by the waterlogged Santeria goddess Yemaya (who, for some reason, is played by both Miss de Vries and Tuyet Thi Pham).

You would think a story involving fires, orphans and near-shipwrecks would be exciting — or at least involving — but this play, listlessly directed by Rick DesRochers, suffers from a fatal form of fancy that quickly sinks the action into twee inertia. The heavy doses of magic realism are hard enough to endure, but “Yemaya’s Belly” is also bloated from a kind of preciousness you normally find in the most cloying of children’s theater.

The set design by Stephanie Nelson, a tiered space fashioned from wooden planks, yields some nifty bits of stagecraft, but other than that, the sparkle in this production is conspicuously absent. Mr. Aranda admirably captures the wide-eyed wonder and often niggling persistence of a young boy, and Miss Pham has her moments as a mysterious, watery ghost who plays dominos.

Yet, on the whole, “Yemaya’s Belly” is quite difficult to stomach.

*

WHAT: “Yemaya’s Belly” by Quiara Alegria Hudes

Signature Theatre, 3806 S. Four Mile Run Drive, Shirlington , Va.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 18.

TICKETS: $29 to $49

PHONE: 800/955-5566

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide