Species Native to California - Theatre Review

By Annette Semerdjian

"Species Native to California " is a tale about the significance of land, especially in the age of current political turmoil. Inspired by Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" and the Mexican folk tale of La Llorona, Dorothy Fortenberry's new play captures the story of two families who live on the same Northern California estate: one white, liberal and the other undocumented. As the somber tale of loss and the importance of land are layered into the story, it also manages to be a fun and humorous play that keeps the audience entertained and engaged.

The standout performance belonged to comedian and actor Melissa Stephens. She brought a huge part of the entertainment to the show with her comedic delivery and portrayal of her character Zo's nonchalant attitude. Eileen Galindo and Tonatiuh Elizarraraz play Gloria and Victor, a mother and son who left Mexico to live in California and were given a place to stay by a progressive, white family in Mendocino County. As the scenes shift between the two families, the difference between them becomes more and more apparent. Issues that are brushed off for the family who owns the land are taken more seriously by Gloria, especially when it comes to her son, Victor.

Despite the family's good intentions, their microaggressions toward Gloria and Victor prove they see them in a different light. Although they refer to Gloria and Victor as family and no different from their own, the relationship doesn't seem too different from that of a wealthy family and the help. Zo is the daughter who lives on the property with her father, Skip, played by Tom Amandes. Zo often asks Gloria to do simple things she could do herself as well as household tasks.

As the characters face the challenge of the financially depreciating land they call home, the ghost of La Llorona looms over the property and haunts Gloria as she is forced to expose the skeletons in her closet. When Zo's sister, played by Margaux Susi, comes to town and they start talking about relationships, Zo cuts Gloria off when she tries to express her worries to the two sisters. Those subtle differences expose the partition between the two families, much like a partition between a driver and her or his patron. In highlighting this distinction between the two families, Fortenberry pulls off the mask of liberal politics and unveils the racism behind one's privilege.

As the land changes and some of its native inhabitants are forced out, the spirit of hope and reparations lingers. "Species Native to California"presents a fun and thought-provoking night of theatre at Atwater Village Theatre through June 11.Tickets here.

Posted By Annette Semerdjian on June 01, 2017 10:37 am | Permalink