Review: World premiere opens Yale Rep season

Adriana Savahn Nichols and Jonathan Nichols

The Yale Repertory Theatre has a host of new plays on tap this season and they have opened with a promising world premiere, “El Huracán” by Charise Castro Smith. This generational saga, about Cuban-Americans waiting out a storm in Miami, has ample story to share and, for most of its running time, that’s a very good thing.

As “El Huracán” begins the time is August 1992 and Hurricane Andrew is about to strike Miami. It is here that matriarch Valeria (a touching Adriana Sevahn Nichols), suffering from the early stages of dementia, is being helped by her daughter, Ximena (Maria-Christina Oliveras) and granddaughter, Miranda (Irene Sofia Lucio) to pack up her home and move to higher ground. The present day activities are countered by Valeria’s memories as the star of a magic act in Cuba with her husband, Alonso (Jonathan Nichols). After an incident occurs in the present day that results in the disappearance of Valeria, Ximena and Miranda become estranged until 2019 when Miranda returns to Florida with her daughter, Val (Jennifer Paredes), to make amends.

With “El Huracán” playwright Smith is nothing if not ambitious. The central theme may be forgiveness, but she is also exploring memory, regret, the cruelty of dementia, generational conflict and the past’s influence on the present. There are also not one but two different ghosts in the play who give convenient advice here to the living. With a running time of nearly two hours without intermission, this is a play with more on its mind that it can often handle. Still, there’s no doubt that there is an abundance of talent on the Yale stage and, while Smith may have an overstuffed plot, her heart is still firmly planted on her sleeve and the stories she is sharing are compelling.

In the small but uniformly excellent cast, three actors (Lucio, Paredes and Arturo Soria) take on multiple roles with Soria playing young Alonso as well as two other men in the contemporary scenes. The opening of the play is a beautifully staged memory witnessed by Valeria as she observes her younger self and Alonso perform their magic act from the 1950s in Cuba. With Frank Sinatra’s classic “Come Fly With Me” as backdrop, magic designer Christopher Rose, director Laurie Woolery and the matchless actors deliver this opening sequence flawlessly. Credit also to the brilliant design team at Yale highlighted by Yaara Bar’s impressive projections and Meguymi Katayama’s essential sound design, both of which help demonstrate Hurricane Andrew as the force of nature it was. There is also a fascinating costume change done in full view of the audience where designer Herin Kaputkin manages to convincingly age Oliveras and Lucio by 27 years. Between the design elements and all the fine acting on display, there’s plenty in “El Huracán” to recommend.

“El Huracán” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through Oct. 20. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com . His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org .