Wednesday, August 10, 2011

“26 Miles” an Ode to Spanish Mothers

Review By Paola Hornbuckle
Cassie Benavidez and Hannah Rose Kornfield.  Photo by Criss Pascual/Infinite Media WorksHaving a Spanish mother is a unique experience, perhaps not well-understood by the uninitiated. 26 Miles by Quiara Alegria Hudes, now playing at Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company, is a play about a young teenage girl rediscovering her estranged mother on a journey across America – her Cuban mother. Raised by her American Jewish father, a blue collar worker in Pennsylvania, teenaged Olivia (Hanna Rose Kornfeld) loves to write. Her imagination, curiosity and emotion is poured into her magazine and notebooks, but interpersonally she keeps her loved ones at arms - length, especially her mother, Beatriz (Cassie Benavidez) whom she rarely sees. Beatriz lost custody of Olivia at an early age, but as they later mentioned in the play, when asked in court which parent she would rather live with, Olivia chose her father because “she was more like him.” Even at age six she sensed this cultural divide between herself and her mother. Nine years later, unaware and blind to her own need, she calls her mother when she develops drastic symptoms, and her mother heeds her call with all the passion and pent-up longing of denied motherhood. Together they choose to go on a journey across the country to Yellowstone National Park. The forced proximity in the car and motel rooms is where the chemistry occurs. Benavidez plays Olivia with such spunk and fire, humor and candor, and deep desire to know her daughter. She crams lessons and memories, Spanish words, and thoughts, talking a mile a minute, in a frenzy to reach her.  Kornfeld as Olivia is a tough-sell, fending off attempts for proximity, sarcastic and critical, cloaking her feelings in poetic ramblings, soaking everything in about the journey except her deep need for her mother. In the car Beatriz tries to get Olivia to shake her bottom to Spanish music. “Mom, I don’t have a butt,” says Olivia, to which Beatriz replies that as half Cuban she has a “spiritual butt.” Such different temperaments and cultures can only be breached slowly, but very humorously, and in the end they find each other, the journey, as usual, is within.

Jacob Bruce (Aaron) is casual, dry and unemotional, he and Olivia are a perfect match as father and daughter and there is an easiness in the similar temperaments, but even he has to face the fact that he can’t really fill the void inside his daughter, although he can’t face it enough to tell her himself. Raul Cardona (Manuel) brings a warmth and vivacity to the stage, the cultural complement to Beatriz, the tie to her culture and the key to her future and a second try at fulfillment as a mother. A deeply touching play that examines the bond between mothers and daughters, a bond that crosses cultural barriers, unspoken needs, and lead to internal journeys. It seems that with a Spanish mother, you can run, but you can’t hide. Very effective scenic design by David Weiner, with movable parts, and projectable images, I truly enjoyed every aspect of this play. Directed by Seema Sueko, 26 Miles playes at Mo’oleo Performing Arts Company through  October 23. For more information go to

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