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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 9, 2000. All rights


Review: `Yellow Eyes’ at Crossroads

America is often called a melting pot, but for some,

the link to an ancestral past can help forge a personal identity.

In "Yellow Eyes," currently running at Crossroads Theater,

playwright Migdalia Cruz explores how one teenager’s growing knowledge

of her own past gives her new powers to face her personal challenges.

And this brand-new drama shows how such knowledge can give form and

meaning to our lives today.

Originally commissioned for last season’s Genesis Festival,


Eyes" is now offered as Crossroads’ 39th world premiere and the

first play of a cross-cultural project that seeks to develop work

addressing relationships between the African-American community and

other people of color.

Set in the Bronx during the snowy fall of 1971, and buoyed by


to Puerto Rico during the late 19th century, "Yellow Eyes"

tells the story of Isabel Nieves, a young Puerto Rican girl, and her

strong connection to her beloved great-grandfather. Both through his

stories of escaping slavery in the previous century, and his


common-sense example of living life in the 1970s, Isabel learns the

value of life, love, culture, and independent action.

The first time we see Isabel (Amarelys Perez) is on Halloween, with

her friend Sharon (Pascale Armand), both dressed in cartoonish vampire

costumes and cooing like little girls over the glories of the teen

heart-throb of the day, Tito Jackson. But we soon learn that things

are not as carefree they appear. Sharon, a dark-skinned


still mourns the death of her brother who died the year before of

a disease that "you got to be black to get." Isabel,


and Puerto Rican, confesses that she is repeatedly being beaten up

by the black girls of the neighborhood for her friendship with Sharon

and her relationship with Ian (Dyron Holmes), an African-American

boy. In this world one’s social circle is defined by the color of

one’s skin.

Meanwhile, Isabel’s great-grandfather, Jose (Jack Landron), age 112,

sits in his little apartment with his wife of 81 years, Ana Cecilia

Sandoval de Sotillo (Virginia Rambal), afraid to venture past the

safety of their doorway. The couple alternately quibble about poorly

prepared food, playfully tease one another over the demise of their

love life, and battle for dominance of the household. Ana Cecilia,

13 years younger than her husband at 99 years, is beset by waves of

dementia. Jose struggles to please her, but is commonly dismissed

by her as a servant and nothing more. This he takes in stride.

Along the way Isabel experiences further troubles — rejection

by her friend Sharon, who is jealous of the time Isabel spends with

Ian, and eventually by Ian himself, who is won over by Dolores (Elisa

Bocanegra), a troubled religious fanatic who is being abused by her


In her program notes to "Yellow Eyes," Cruz

writes of her own close relationship with her great-grandfather, who

lived to be an astonishing 112 and who had been a slave in Puerto

Rico in the last part of the 19th century. This autobiographical


gives her story-telling a special power. She also provides subtly

nuanced storylines that flow from character to character.

Although not always immediately apparent, each character’s story is

interwoven with every other characters’ story, and all is ultimately

tied together in a neat, easily recognizable package. It is important

for an audience member to trust the playwright while viewing this

play. You may not know exactly what is going on at a given moment,

but stay with it, all will be explained. Also Cruz has a wonderful

gift for language, effortlessly mingling richly poetic dialogue with

the common stuff of everyday life. This makes her language beautiful,

yet never ostentatious, and always sounding natural. "Yellow


is a beautifully written play.

Unfortunately the production is weak. The direction by Talvin Wilks

is uneven at best and at times seemingly nonexistent. The pizza parlor

scenes have little movement; actors look awkwardly at one another

as they deliver their lines. In Act II, in a key scene in which Isabel

and Sharon encounter one another in the snow, the dialogue indicates

a scene laced with emotion, yet the director gives the actors


nothing to do but stand in one place and occasionally kick at the

ground. Consequently the acting throughout the evening is uneven.

Best of all are Jack Landron as Jose and Virginia Rambal as Ana


They provide most of the evening’s real laughs and tears with their

thoughtful portrayal of an old couple gazing at one another through

their 81 years together, still steeped with the same old annoyances

and unspoken emotions.

Amarelys Perez and Pascale Armand are both clearly young actresses

with talent, and have moments of real beauty and truth, but far too

often we see them grappling for lines and displaying such acting


as rolling their eyes, and smirking at the audience when their


say something clever. Dyron Holmes as Ian and the young Jose seems

well rehearsed and confident in his dual role, but remains slightly

aloof from his characters, as if he were not sure exactly why they

were in the play. Such problems could be cured with more thorough


"Yellow Eyes" is a new play and a very good play, filled with

myth, legend, sensuous emotion, love, and regret. Migdalia Cruz is

a young playwright with a powerful voice. Go see her play, and if

you look past the production flaws, you will experience an evening

of rare beauty.

— Jack Florek

Yellow Eyes, Crossroads Theater, 7 Livingston


New Brunswick, 732-249-5560. $28 to $40. Performances continue through

February 27.

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