Home may be where the heart is, but what if someone feels at home in multiple places?
In Richard Blanco and Vanessa Garcia’s tasty, bittersweet and charming play, “Sweet Goats & Blueberry Señoritas,” Beatriz is such a person. More specifically, she misses parts of Miami, the city in which she grew up. But Beatriz’s friends in her small Maine hometown have become like family to her. Further, she does not get along with her mother, Marilyn, who has remained in Miami.
So where should Beatriz settle?
That is a question the character faces in Blanco’s and Garcia’s sweet but not syrupy, relatable play. It is running through Sunday, Dec. 3 in a strong Florida premiere production by Actors’ Playhouse.at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables. The play runs roughly 90 minutes and there is no intermission.
Actors’ Playhouse Artistic Director David Arisco solidly guides an impressive cast of six actors. To their credit, they are funny and convincing at the same time. The performers are Melissa Ann Hubicsak, JL Rey, Conor Walton, Elizabeth Price, Michael Gioia, and Barbara Bonilla.
Hubicsak shines as Beatriz. Her character possesses a lively spirit that makes it clear why someone would want to be her “forever friend.” Hubicsak’s Beatriz is also believably passionate when she needs to be and the performer makes us care about and root for her character.
Rey is convincingly playful, seductive, and intense as Beatriz’s Cuban uncle who visits her from Miami. Meanwhile, Bonilla, who demonstrates deft comic timing, conveys grace and a sense of inner strength as Marilyn. Contrastingly, Walton is mellow and low-key as Beatriz’s neighbor, Blake.
Gioia manages to make Maynard a believable curmudgeon without turning the character into an unlikable individual. It can be a tough balance to achieve, but Gioia succeeds. And Price is uptight, yet endearing, as Georgie.
While the playwrights have flooded their piece with Cubanisms, they have included enough universal material for a general audience to relate.
In “Sweet Goats & Blueberry Señoritas,” which takes place in the present time, Beatriz is a Cuban-American woman living in an unnamed small town in Maine. While she grew up in Miami, she moved away as a young woman possibly to avoid arguments with her mother, Marilyn.
Beatriz operates a small-town bakery and has applied to become a foster parent. As she awaits news of her approval, Beatriz interacts with folks who have become her friends. While they are not three-dimensional characters, they are likable and eccentric.
For instance, you might say that Maynard is the town curmudgeon. The cynical man can grow irritable quickly and has named his pet bird Clarice after his ex-wife. Oddly, Maynard cheated on his current spouse, Georgie, with his ex-wife. But people are not perfect, and the possibility of forgiveness always exists.
Forgiveness is one of the main themes in “Sweet Goats & Blueberry Señoritas,” which also carries themes of community, history, and family. However, in this piece, the playwrights are obviously interested not just in biological family members, but in relationships that we form throughout the course of our lives. For example, friends and neighbors can become like family members to us. And, by the end of this play, it looks as though Beatriz and her neighbors have become one big family.
We won't mince words: The play’s ending is sad, but it also leaves us feeling hopeful and energized. Indeed, at the end of the piece, the characters dance to ethnic music in a celebration of Marilyn’s spirit (her mother used to dance). Among those present at the celebration is Marilyn’s ghost, who dances with the rest of them before crossing over into the afterlife.
By the end of the play, the lead character's inner conflict of moving back to Miami vs. remaining in Maine remains unresolved. However, the playwrights have given the inner conflict a kind of symbolic resolution.
Specifically, Beatriz uses a sack of goat cheese to make a Maine version of pastelitos. With this act, Beatriz combines her roots (Miami and Cuba) with the place she chooses to call home (Maine).
Speaking of food, the playwrights might make your mouth water as they mention fare such as pastelitos and pies. At one point, Beatriz notes that she is making “whoopie pies.”
“I love whoopie pies, whoopie pies are delicious. Kids love whoopie pies, Maine loves whoopie pies. What’s not to like?”
So, what exactly is a whoopie pie, and what makes it so great? Oddly, we never learn about its ingredients. This is one flaw in a play that is generally touching and funny, if not entirely original. Also, it would help non-Spanish-speaking audience members if the playwrights or Arisco included supertitles for parts of lines that the characters speak only in Spanish.
Behind the scenes, Ellis Tillman designed character-appropriate costumes that include a red outfit for Marilyn. More specifically, “she’s dressed in red, a streak of white hair, like a cardinal,” read stage directions. In fact, a cardinal follows Beatriz throughout the course of the play, so the symbolic costume makes sense. Actually, playwrights Blanco and Garcia include bird symbolism at different points in the play. Some of the symbols are stronger than others.
Meanwhile, scenic designer Brandon Newton’s set is more symbolic than realistic. In addition to featuring realistic props, the scenic design includes several tall frames that may force us to use our imagination to determine their purpose.
Lighting designer Eric Nelson’s work suggests, among other things, the time of day. And sound Designer Reidar Sorensen has created realistic noises that place us in the play’s small-town setting.
Obviously, Beatriz likes living in Maine. However, the young woman also fondly recalls her childhood spent in Miami. Chances are, most of us can probably relate to Beatriz’s inner conflict.
“If only there were a place that, I don’t know…a place that --,” she says at the beginning of the play before trailing off.
Perhaps Beatriz does not even know what she's looking for.
Actors’ Playhouse production of “Sweet Goats & Blueberry Señoritas,” runs through Sunday, Dec. 3 at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. Performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, as well as 3 p.m. Sundays. A talk back with the cast and director will follow the production on Friday, Nov. 17. Tickets range from $55 to $85. Call (305) 444-9293, visit www.actorsplayhouse.org or go to the box office. Actors’ Playhouse offers 10 percent off all weekday performances for seniors and $15 student rish tickets to any performance 15 minutes before curtain with identification. Group discounted rates are offered for 10 patrons or more through the group sales department at (305) 444-9293, ext. 2 or on www.actorsplayhouse.org.