National New Play Network

A Milagro Carol

Working from generation to generation, Milagro and playwright Maya Malan-Gonzalez give "A Christmas Carol" a virtual update

The story of A Xmas Cuento Remix begins with a play being handed from one generation to another. In 2015, Milagro Theatre co-founder José González began discussing the possibility of a Christmas show with his daughter, Los Angeles-based playwright Maya Malan-Gonzalez. He decided to show her a Christmas Carol-inspired script that he had written—and while she liked what she read, she saw yet-to-be-plumbed depths.

“My father’s play, while it’s beautiful and is really an incredible story, it really speaks to the challenges that Latinos faced in the nineties, which are different today,” says Malan-Gonzalez. “My father touched on immigration and deportation in his play, and so I kind of wanted to also touch on [questions like], Who has access to healthcare? What does gentrification look like in our communities?”

Those are some of the questions that ignited A Xmas Cuento Remix. Written by Malan-Gonzalez, the play reconfigures her father’s concept into a distinctly millennial musical that replaces Scrooge and his three ghostly mentors with a tyrannical, tormented businesswoman (who, like her Dickensian predecessor, is schooled in compassion by a series of supernatural visitations).

“Xmas Scrooge,” from the 2019 production, featuring Veronika Nuñez and Shaleesa Moreno, both returning to this year’s cast. Also shown: Tricia Catañeda Guevara, Gina Cornejo, and Emily Hogan. Photo: Jackaldog Photography/Jack Wells

A Xmas Cuento Remix opened last year at Cleveland Public Theatre, 16th Street Theatre in Berwyn, Ill., and Milagro. Yet the play’s return to Milagro, where it is available online Dec. 4-31, is even more ambitious than last year’s three-pronged debut (which was the National New Play Network’s 92nd Rolling World Premiere). [UPDATE: Opening has been postponed until Dec. 11 because of technical difficulties.]

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A wolf left howling at the door

A new Rolling World Premiere at Milagro blends fairy tale and Aztec myth in a visually seductive but overly simplistic tale

Marisela Treviño Orta’s new play Wolf at the Door at Milagro Theatre is a blend of fairy tale and Aztec myth. Its heroine, Isadora, is in an abusive relationship with Séptimo. Séptimo has kidnapped Yolot, a pregnant Wolf-Spirit-Person, and wants to steal her baby. Wolves howl in the distance throughout the show, communicating with Yolot. Isadora (Marian Mendez), Yolot (Maya Malán-González), and the Wolves all plot to take down Séptimo (Matthew Sepeda). Human, Spirit, and Animal come together to triumph over an abuser. As an idea, that’s pretty awesome. On stage, it dosn’t land so well.

Wolf at the Door – it’s part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere program, with companies in New Jersey, Dallas, and Chicago also producing it – opens with Isadora’s baby dying in childbirth. Then Rocío (Patricia Alvitez), a maternal sage figure, digs a hole in the ground to bury the corpse. That’s an intense image at the top of any play. And the intensity only goes up from there.

Patricia Alvitez as Rocío. Photo: Russell J Young

The ancient stories that Treviño Orta used as sources, and which are outlined in the study guide Milagro provides its audience, are compelling. One reason fairy tales and myths have good shelf lives is their simplicity: They succinctly impart the profound. For example, fairy-tale characters are often clearly delineated as either good or bad. That lack of more complex definition works well in storytelling/oral traditions, but here it makes the action onstage fall flat.

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Spotlight on: a theatrical ‘Jump’

In a leap of faith, Confrontation and Milagro collaborate on a "rolling premiere" of Charly Evon Simpson's new play

Expect the unexpected from Confrontation Theatre.

Its second full production, a co-production with Milagro, is Charly Evon Simpson’s Jump, which opens at the Milagro space on Friday. Two full shows in (its first full production was James Webb’s comedy Sibling Rivalry in 2017) and the nascent theater hasn’t come across as a company that, on the surface, might seem particularly “confrontational.” That’s just how artistic director La’Tevin Alexander Ellis wants it.

“Confrontation means to confront all topics,” Ellis says, “all things within the Black community first, and then those outside of our community. It’s not necessarily about picking a fight and arguing, and it’s definitely not just about racism, because that shit gets tiring. There’s not anything stereotypical. There are no caricatures. That’s the goal, that’s the plan – confronting all of that. Not just in the negative of trying to pick a fight with white people.”

Not that Confrontation is averse to more volatile subject matter. In smaller productions, it’s taken on Amiri Baraka’s searing The Dutchman (2015) and took part in 2016’s Every 28 Hours national series of extremely short plays in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. And its next show, another co-production (with Portland Playhouse), will be Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline, a piece “about the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Ellis. “We’ll come back with the little bit about race there but it’s more about motherhood and how do we respond to this unjust, inadequate educational system.”

In other words, Confrontation Theatre is about presenting and exploring issues that confront the Black community in all its nuance and complexity. Which is what drew Ellis and the rest of Confrontation (actor Andrea Vernae, actor/director Tamera Lyn, sound designer Philip Johnson, education director Jasmine Cottrell and community outreach director Alagia Felix) to Simpson’s multi-faceted jewel of a play, Jump.

Andrea Vernae in “Jump.” Photo: Russell J Young

“These are just people going through human shit,” says Ellis, “and we’re watching it unfold before our eyes. It’s a story about something that really impacts our community but is not explicitly about our community.” Jump is a story that could happen to anybody. The family in this case just happens to be Black. Which is important because the play deals a lot with depression, which is as much of an issue in the Black community as elsewhere, but no one ever talks about it. “Historically, there is a lack of both diagnostic and treatment studies on depression. This lack of studies on depression in African Americans has existed for decades. African Americans are underserved, understudied, and misdiagnosed as a group.” A key study published in 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, Misconceptions of Depression in African Americans, underscores that.

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