Wild in Wichita (Locuras en Wichita)
nytheatre.com review by Heather J. Violanti
June 26, 2011
“Maturity is knowing your limits,” says Carmela, a feisty yet pragmatic nursing home resident in Lina Gallegos’s charming Locuras en Wichita (Wild in Wichita). Carmela thinks she knows her limits very well—until she meets the suave yet disarmingly sincere JoaquÍn, a fellow resident who argues “the sky’s the limit.” Joaquín just might be Carmela’s prince charming, if he can stop his eye from wandering. Carmela might be Joaquín’s perfect match, if she can loosen up.
Carmela and Joaquín’s unlikely romance is only one of the surprises in Locuras en Wichita, a romantic comedy that’s as rueful as it is sweet. It’s unusual to see a play where characters age 78 and 80 take center stage with such complexity, let alone one that so easily balances meditations on mortality with earthy humor. Carmela and Joaquín reflect on the fleeting nature of life one moment, then joke about sex the next. Gallegos’s richly drawn characters, brought to sparkling life by Miriam Cruz and Frank Robles under Luis Fernández’s deft direction, never descend into stereotype and reveal startling depth. Carmela is not as uptight—or as in control—as she seems, while Joaquín’s flirtatiousness conceals a surprising loneliness. Only Carmela and Joaquín’s grown children—who cannot speak Spanish (unusually for Repertorio Español, their scenes are entirely in English)—veer toward type with their self-absorption with their own corporate lives. Then, just when you’ve written them off, they reveal a streak of surprising compassion.
The breezy, natural dialogue occasionally shifts awkwardly into monologues that feel a smidge too self-consciously “revealing,” and the final, repetitive squabble between Carmela and Joaquín over music is perhaps unnecessary, but these are minor quibbles with a strong, heartfelt script and production. The play is an impressive New York debut for Gallegos, an actor and playwright who won Repertorio’s 2009 MetLife Nuestras Voces competition with this script. It’s a play that also moves its audience in a way I’ve seldom seen. The afternoon I saw Locuras en Wichita, spectators hung on Carmela and Joaquín’s every word, gasping when they were separated, and cheering when they reunited. It’s a play that should go on to a long life here and across the country.