Tuesday, February 28, 2023

ALMA, An Immigrant’s Tale A play by Benjamin Benne

ALMA, An Immigrant’s Tale

A play by Benjamin Benne

At Central Square Theater, February 23-March 26 2023

By Andy Hoffman

ALMA, at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, tells the story of a mother and daughter scraping by in the Los Angeles suburb of La Puente. Alma, the mother, traveled through the desert pregnant to make certain that her daughter, Angel, would have American citizenship by birth. Alma has dedicated her life to the success of her daughter, working long hours to pay for the one-bedroom apartment 20 miles east of downtown. Angel, now in high school, bridles at the oversight and control her mother imposes while at the same time living in fear that the next knock at the door will bring immigration authorities determined to deport Alma.

In the political rhetoric of America First-ers, Angel is an ‘anchor baby’ and Alma guilty of ‘birth tourism’. The play takes place in the nervous weeks between Donald Trump’s election and his inauguration, and the two women dread the reality his rhetoric foretells. Angel’s citizenship has Constitutional protection, but Alma has none. She knows that Angel does not yet have the maturity to manage on her own – the play opens with Angel off-stage, drinking with a friend – and Alma fears for the worst. This fear invades the apartment in La Puente as the TV suddenly, repeatedly, and unpredictably blares on.

Karina Beleno Carney and Luz Lopez, as Alma and Angel respectively, carry the 80-minute drama alone and admirably as they squabble and attempt to find compromise in a situation over which they have little control. Alma expects her daughter to go to the University of California at Davis to become a veterinarian. Angel’s last opportunity to take the SATs for consideration of admission takes place the morning after the time of the play, but she has no intention to sit for it. She has delayed taking the test for months because she knows that her mother’s dream of a perfect score of 2400 has no chance of success. Angel sees the girls at her school whose parents have the resources to pay for tutoring and recognizes that, despite her brilliance, she cannot compete. Further, the test itself has changed: the flashcards Alma drills Angel on no longer represent test questions, and the test itself has returned to a 1600 perfect score. Angel has concluded to start at community college instead. Alma won’t hear of it. Elena Velasco’s sensitive direction carries us along with kindness and love, which triumphs in the end, whatever the final outcome, for the women.

In the course of the play, the women fight over Angel’s determination to alter her mother’s long-outlined pathway to her future. Alma has commanded her dreams for Angel, codifying them into a list of expected attainments, a list Angel has herself memorized. The story of this struggle has defined their lives, but Angel, growing up in the US, sees the boundaries that circumscribe her life, boundaries invisible to Alma. Alma carried both her unborn daughter and these unborn dreams on her treacherous journey into the United States, and she’s unwilling to let go of either.

ALMA presents a picture we don’t often see on stage, like the production of JADO JEHAD at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, reviewed here last week. We get the rare opportunity to hear these new voices and under-told stories through the remarkably diverse theater scene we have in Boston. It is well worth taking in both plays, if you can. ALMA, however, could benefit from the cultivation JADO JEHAD experienced. The play retells the differences between Alma and her daughter perhaps to0 often, while leaving out ancillary and perhaps illuminating stories that would give this central conflict more depth. We know nothing about Angel’s father or whether or not Alma has any sort of life beyond the cramped confines of the apartment, where she sleep on the couch so Angel can have a bedroom. Angel, too, as a teenaged girl, should have interests outside her mother’s dreams for her. Such stories, well-constructed, could add depth, meaning, and impact to the main story. The playwright, Benjamin Benne, shows tremendous promise. He has experienced impressive success at a very young age, and in the future we will talk about having had the opportunity to see his early work.

Dr. Andrew Hoffman reviews theater here regularly. He has published novels, biography, literary criticism, poetry, games, and screenplays. He holds a PhD in English from Brown and software patents. He can be reached at ndhffmn56@gmail.com