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Monday, Oct. 8, 2012

Lopez-Rios on the Magic of ‘Enfrascada’

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Michelle Lopez-Rios’ credits include work as a stage actor, a director and a voice coach. Lopez-Rios’ latest project finds her working with Renaissance Theaterworks as the director of Enfrascada, a story of a woman who turns to ancient folk magic to try to get her boyfriend back.

As a director, what appeals to you about Enfrascada?

Enfrascada
is a play about friendship and love. I saw an earlier version of the play in Chicago about four years ago. I was drawn to the fierce, loving, spiritual and hilarious Latinas in the play. They reminded me of my friends, my tias (aunts), my mother—the women in my life. I loved the exploration of the religious and mystic worlds of Hoodoo, Santeria and Brujeria. I grew up hearing many stories about spells, charms and practices. I have friends and family who visit señoras like the ones in the play and heed their warnings and advice. I laughed out loud, but was also moved by [playwright] Tanya Saracho's witty words. Many things clash in this play: English and Spanish, feminism and traditionalism, depression and obsession. But it is love and friendship that guide the women through this journey and remind us what we do for love.

My impression from earlier productions is that Saracho fills the script with pithy lines and plenty of humor, but there's an underlying seriousness. Is that correct?

I think any good play is a balance of drama and comedy. We laugh because something is funny, but we also laugh when something is ironic, uncomfortable, unbelievable or simply so that we don't cry. Saracho shines a light on these naked moments, these mysterious worlds that many of us visit but often do not talk about. Desperately serious circumstances bring the characters to hilarious interactions. I am doing my best to create an environment where the actresses feel free to explore these moments in an authentic and believable way.

The play also tries to balance magic, mysticism and a contemporary, real world in which real people get hurt by real things they do to each other. How are you handling this?

[Our] theater reflects a culture of love, passion, spirituality and magic. It is this culture that has inspired "magical realism." Writers like Gabriel García Márquez, José Rivera and Tanya Saracho bring this culture to life with their poetic words. There is a fine line between laughter and tears, love and obsession, superstition and magic. I think we serve the text best by respecting the culture, the people and the spirituality of the play. The beliefs are rooted deeply in religion, culture, heritage and a long history of people with gifts. Our belief that they are real makes them real.

The play deals with contemporary folk magic. The playwright did extensive research into that subject matter. Have you done similar research for the production?

Yes. The reading has been fascinating. I have been reading nonfiction interviews with curanderas, healers and rootworkers. I have read up on Hoodoo, Voodoo, Santeria, Curanderismo, rootworkers, card readers. I am also reading Urrea's fiction novel The Hummingbird's Daughter. But the absolute best research has been calling and talking to women in my family who visit or have visited señoras, listening to stories of mal de ojo [evil eye] and praying with the egg. We are lucky to have Yadira Correa in the cast. She was part of the first production and has met the señoras that inspired the characters in the play.

Renaissance Theaterworks' production of
Enfrascada runs Oct. 19-Nov. 11 at the Broadway Theatre Center. For ticket reservations, call 414-291-7800.