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