Two River Theater offers laughs, tears in premiere of tender ‘Guadalupe’

“Guadalupe in the Guest Room” is a lovely slice-of-life play about love  and death and the power of the Spanish telenovela.

Written by Tony Meneses and directed by Daniella Topol, the 90-minute play is receiving its world premiere at the Two River Theater  in Red Bank, NJ, through March 15.

Charles Socarides plays Steve, whose young wife of two years, Claudia, died one month ago. Socorro Santiago plays his mother-in-law Guadalupe, who has come from Mexico for the funeral and is still in the guest room.

Deonna Bouye plays Raquel, Claudia’s best friend and fellow grammar school Spanish teacher. Alfredo Huereca plays the newly hired gardener who gets Guadalupe out of the house on a date (“You brought me to a Mexican restaurant?!”) and sees a future together for them. Bouye and Huereca  also play multiple over-the-top characters from the telenovela (a Spanish soap opera) that  Guadalupe watches daily, just as she did with Claudia during her long illness.

The intimate 99-seat Marion Huber Theater space practically puts us into the living room of Steve’s house, designed by Marion Williams and nicely lit by Jiyoun Chang. The rear and side walls of the space envelope the set with colorful murals of bright blues, greens, orange and reds with images from Claudia’s unpublished  children’s books.

The play opens with Guadalupe asking Raquel if she believes in God. But it’s not perfectly clear to the audience until a few minutes into the play that although the women are speaking English, they “really” are speaking Spanish and we don’t realize this until Steve comes home from work and has problems communicating with the ladies.

Guadalupe and Steve might have loved the same woman (the mother much longer than her son-in-law), but they don’t speak the same language. It creates isolation and misunderstanding.

And things are getting a little stressed around the house to the point that Steve yells profanities at Guadalupe for always making his bed. His grief is palpable and she understands, but she can’t leave until she and Raquel translate children’s stories that Claudia scribbled and illustrated in her notebooks from English to Spanish. It’s the one thing Guadalupe hasn’t been able to share with her daughter.

Meanwhile, she enjoys watching her telenovela. And, eventually, Steve sits down and watches as well. His Spanish improves, her English gets a little better, and they both learn that love is never forgotten.

It would have been nice to know more about Steve, plus how he met and and why he fell in love with Claudia. Yet, there are plenty of laughs, plus a few tears, to make for a satisfying love story. We may not always speak the same language, but we all have the same emotions.

For more info and buy tickets, click here.

Next up, the world premiere musical “Be More Chill.”  For a sneak peek with composer/lyricist Joe Iconis, click here.