THE BASICS: ISLEÑA (Islander/Island Girl), a one-woman play co-written by sisters Victoria Pérez and María Pérez Gómez, featuring Victoria Pérez, directed by María Pérez Gómez, presented by Raíces Theatre runs through July 3 on stage at Road Less Traveled (the new home of Raíces) 456 Main Street Buffalo NY 14202. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 6:00 pm. Tickets can be reserved by calling 716-381-9333 or visiting ticketstripe.com/islenaonewomanshow, or visit roadlesstraveledproductions.org
Runtime: 55 minutes without intermission. Bar open before and after the show.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: ISLEÑA is a one-woman show dealing with Victoria Pérez’s real-life uprooting from her beloved Puerto Rico to join extended family in Buffalo when she was 9 years old. It’s about the struggle to define her identity while living in the diaspora. As the title character turns 40 years old, her husband surprises her with a family trip back to the island. As she packs for the return to her homeland she must unpack memories that she buried long ago in order to survive. She is forced to reconcile with her inner child and accept both the joyful and the traumatic experiences she had growing up on the island. Isleña celebrates family, tradition, culture, music, (lots and lots of music), and ultimately the longing to return home.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: I recall several years ago when the actress Victoria Pérez posted a selfie on Facebook following her vacation trip to Puerto Rico. Everyone commented on how radiant she looked, years younger, exuding calm and happiness. It was quite a pic, and more than just your typical “I’m on vacation” shot. Now, having seen her play, ISLEÑA, I know the rest of the story.
The play with extended music opens with Pérez cooking arroz y habichuelas in her on-stage kitchen, making up a song, trying to rhyme with aquí (here), and happily coming up with coquí (a little frog native only to Puerto Rico named for the loud call the males make at night, with the “koh” repelling other males and the “kee” attracting females). Like the tree flower Flor de Maga, it is a national symbol of the island.
Pretty soon she’s using her pots and pans as percussion instruments; she explains the basic rhythm of salsa (1-2, 1-2-3); and before long, the band, behind a scrim, joins in, and we’re off! ¡Wepa!
Little by little, we find out that Pérez was uprooted at the age of nine from her lovely island.
Fact: Every year five (5!) million tourists travel from the U.S. mainland to visit for a chance to feel those warm island breezes, so you can imagine how this nine-year-old felt coming to Buffalo only a decade or so after the famous Blizzard of ’77.
Ultimately, we come to the crunch point of the play, the climax, the real reason that she hasn’t been one of those five million turistas traveling to the island. The climax is brought on by her husband telling her that for her milestone 40th birthday, the family is going “back home” for a vacation. But something happened to her there when she was only four and it’s been with her, buried deep, and now it’s got to be faced.
But, face it she does, and so the musical ends quite happily. Tiffany Jaramillo (Scenic Designer) has made a useful set that really comes alive (almost literally) when lit up by Nicholas Quinn (Light/Sound Designer).
Backing Pérez, who is also a professional singer, is a talented band, headed up by Kevin Doyle (Music Director and keyboard) with Nelson Rivera (saxophone and minor percussion), Calvin Rice (trumpet), and Ruben Sanchez (percussion). Every night will also feature a local Buffalo musical star joining Pérez for a duet. That’s so Raíces, involving family and friends, in the production.
When you go, pack a five-dollar bill for three chances to win a pair of earrings (identical to those that Pérez wears on stage). They feature the Flor de Maga, the official national flower of Puerto Rico (see photo).
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!