Though it’s based on interviews with the relatives of a number of young Mexican women–and girls, really–who had gruesome deaths in Ciudad Juarez, “the way she spoke” is surprisingly unconvincing. It’s not so much the writing as the performance that prevents us from following or believing what we’re told.
Written by Isaac Gomez, who lives across the border in El Paso, Texas, “the way she spoke” is a one-woman show that fails to speak to us: it’s performed by Mexican film star Kate del Castillo who attempts to give different accents and vocal mannerisms to the various characters she impersonates, without much success. She is no Whoopi Goldberg or Anna Devere Smith, who were–and in Smith’s case, still is–masters or impersonation.
Director Jo Bonney should have done a better job of getting Castillo to distinguish among the many characters she inhabits. We are instead confused about who’s saying what and when, even if we understand, at times, that they are the mothers or aunts of the many victims we hear about, or the author himself, describing his working on this play.
“Because this is a play within a play, there are two forms to note,” Gomez writes in a note at the top of his script. “OOC (out of character–meaning the actress herself), and IC (in character–meaning, the character she is embodying.)” Unfortunately, we can’t always differentiate even among those obvious discrepancies.
The large bare stage at the Minetta Lane Theatre contains a table and three chairs–and that’s all–when there’s a knock on the door and Castillo enters, wet from the offstage rain, in a raincoat and with a collapsible umbrella, not to mention a large copy of the script of the play we’re about to hear, which she refers to, from time to time, as if she didn’t really know it.
“Today has been a really shitty day,” she says as she explains that she’s just come from an unsuccessful audition, and as she removes her coat to reveal a blue velvet jacket, which she wears as a blouse. That, too, eventually comes off, leaving her eventually in all black attire.
But the play we see is nothing like what appears in the script, in which the playwright is himself in the audience, and Castillo’s character says, “What are you doing sitting out there, huh? You almost gave me a heart attack.”
There is a sharp contrast between the violence of what Castillo describes (one of the girls, for instance, had “her nipples… bitten off”) and the ease with which she describes it. The women all “disappear right when they get off the bus,” and they encounter their brutal ends.
There are many projections by Aaron Rhyne, which are unfortunately obscured by the rear brick wall at the Minetta Lane Theatre. And if the scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez and the costume design by Emilio Sosa have little to commend them, Lap Chi Chu’s lighting design does what it can to help differentiate the many characters Castillo plays.
“the way she spoke” (through August 18, 2019)
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit http://www.minettalanenyc.com
Running time: one hour and 20 minutes without an intermission