Tony Meneses new play, “The Women of Padilla,” is about eight women who are married to eight brothers who are away fighting an unknown war for an unknown cause that seems never-ending.
The title refers to the family’s last name and seven of the women spend hours together daily talking, eating, arguing, and laughing in a series of short scenes during the 90-minute play featuring an all-Latina cast.Meneses, whose play “Guadalupe in the Guest Room,” premiered here in 2015, says his mother and aunts inspired this play about women, and that Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (“Blood Wedding,” “The House of Bernardo Alba”) is a huge influence on his writing.
Each of the sisters-in-law have one trait that defines them: Blanca (Karina Arroyave) is the one on the outside; Lucha (Helen Cespedes) is the one with poetry; Mari, (Jacqueline Correa) is the one who quietly leads; Fidela (Daniella De Jesús) is the one who’s taciturn; Alejandra (Paloma Guzmán) is the one who’s expecting; Marta (Keren Lugo) is the one with faith; Cristina (Elizabeth Ramos) is the one who’s young, and Carmen (Jeanine Serralles) is the one who drinks.
Would these women be friends if they were not united by family ties and fear they will end up widows? Seems unlikely. Nevertheless, they are a part of each other now as they worry and wait for their men to return.
But don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of laughs as well. The play opens with a huge laugh and ends on a high note.
Blanca, who lives elsewhere with her children, is an enigma. She only comes around when she needs money, and pays compliments that are insults. She appreciates a visit from a sister-in-law, but only says thank you after the door is firmly closed.
Why is she like this? We never know. We really don’t know much about them nor what makes them tick. After all, it’s a short play.
Lucha, who also lives alone, spends a lot of time with her sisters-in-law, until a dove arrives and drops a piece of paper with her husband’s name on it. He’s been killed. And she withdraws from the group.
Garcia Lorca’s poetry is filled with symbols so one wonders if the dove, usually a symbol of peace but here delivers death notices, has a special meaning. When Alejandra goes into labor it’s a dove, not a child, that emerges and flies away. Did the baby die? Another dove arrives and only Fidela sees it. She quickly eats the paper with the deceased’s name. How long before the widow knows?
Ken Rus Schmoll directs this superb cast of actresses. The many scene changes are precisely choreographed to be quick and efficient with a new tablecloth covering the large rustic wood kitchen table each time. Also, a piece of furniture is removed each time: a large standing cupboard, a chair, the refrigerator another chair.
I’m not sure what the disappearing furniture means. I’m working on it. Also puzzled why the doves were represented by puppets until the end when they were handfuls of, well, looked like fake snow tossed into the air. I left the theater with more questions than I had answers and that was frustrating.
Arnulfo Maldonado designed a simple, rustic set that evokes the colors of the Mexican countryside and comes alive in the last scene when the walls break apart to reveal a purple sky at twilight and dark rolling hills and the women come together on a roof top to celebrate life — but only six of them show up.
The stage is nicely enhanced by lighting designer Yuki Nakase whose spotlight on one character at the end of each scene are stunning living portraits. Sound designer is Jane Shaw. The puppet designer is James Ortiz, and the puppet director is Will Gallacher.
The Women of Padilla
Two River Theater
21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank
Wednesdays through Sundays through April 30.
Tickets: $20-70, and available by calling 732-345-1400, at the box office, or online at www.tworivertheater.org.