At the theater: Quiara Alegria Hudes’s “26 Miles”

DeAnna Gonzales and Georgia Marshelle Phillips played Beatriz and Olivia in the 26 Miles production by Artes de la Rosa of Fort Worth. They were fantastic. (Photo courtesy Adam Adolfo.)

“At the Theater” is a new feature in which I will check out plays by Latino authors. The article is intended to be a look at the author’s work and not a review of the theatrical production – so no comments about acting, lighting or staging. I saw the Fort Worth-based Artes de la Rosa’s production of the play.

Quiara Alegria Hudes knows how to make a heart laugh – and then break it to pieces.

Audiences who see 26 Miles will experience those emotions when they see her play, which was first performed in 2008 and has been produced all around the country. In fact, two Dallas-Fort Worth theater companies put on the play within weeks of each other this month.

26 Miles tells the story of Beatriz, a temperamental Cuban secretary living in Philadelphia, and her troubled daughter, Olivia, 15, who has lived with her white father in suburbia since she was six years old. On the spur of the moment, Beatriz kidnaps Olivia and they take a road trip together.

Along the way, Beatriz teaches her daughter five words in Spanish a day. Olivia reveals her dreams and fears – mostly to the audience, sometimes to her mother – in her writings. They both must deal with the men they left behind – Beatriz’s husband, Manual; Olivia’s father, Aaron – through awkward phone calls and messages.

The road trip is a bit of a cliché. It’s been used in countless plays, movies and books as a metaphor for life. And the characters are stereotypes – Beatriz is the emotional Latina; Olivia is the typical moody teenager. But Hudes brings up touchy subjects – bullying, cultural identity and marital woes – in a natural, not contrived, manner and the dialogue sounds like everyday conversation. The well-paced play brings plenty of laughs, which makes the climax so much more dramatic.

There’s a reason why 26 Miles has been produced so frequently – it packs a great deal of emotion and life in 90 minutes.

More about Quiara Alegría Hudes:

Hudes, who is half-Puerto Rican, is also the playwright of the 2008 Tony-award winning musical In the Heights. She has also been a finalist for the Pultizer Prize Award twice, for Heights and Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue.

26 Miles: If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you still have Friday-Sunday to check the play Artes de la Rosa’s production at the Rose Marine Theater in Fort Worth. Tickets cost $12 for students and seniors and $18 for adults, plus service charges.

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