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Theater Review: ”Guadalupe in the Guest Room”

“Guadalupe in the Guest Room” plays through October 28, 2018 at New Village Arts, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

I remember watching telenovelas way back in the Middle Ages when I was studying Spanish. I found these soap operas a great way to learn conversational Spanish, and the emotional extremes on view made it nearly impossible not to catch the meaning, even if you didn’t know the words.

At Carlsbad’s New Village Arts, a telenovela called “El Amor Nunca Se Olvida” (love is never forgotten) figures in the West Coast premiere of Tony Meneses’ play “Guadalupe in the Guest Room,” at once a gentle story about love, loss and moving on and a rather tricky intercultural piece that plays with communication barriers, linguistic and other.

Guadalupe (played magnificently by Gabriela Nelson) has come from Mexico to Boston to live with her daughter Claudia, a middle school Spanish teacher, and son-in-law Steve (Tom Steward) during Claudia’s illness.

Guadalupe’s English isn’t great. Neither is Steve’s Spanish, but they get through with a little of each, or sometimes with a weird sort of pidgin that is neither.

The play starts about a month after Claudia’s death. Guadalupe has stayed on to help Raquel (Ciarlene Coleman), a former colleague of Claudia’s, translate Claudia’s children’s stories into Spanish.

Steve appreciates Guadalupe’s kindness (and her cooking) but is also annoyed that she’s, well, always there, and insists on making his bed. One day he loses his temper about this and yells at her in fractured Spanish.

When Guadalupe meets newly-hired gardener Roberto, the two struggle along in English until they realize they are both native Spanish speakers. From that point, though the audience still hears English, they are to be understood as speaking Spanish.

The language barrier between Steve and Guadalupe is finally broken by the TV, when they find they both enjoy watching the exaggerated emotions of the characters in “El Amor Nunca Se Olvida.”

But romance is not just on the TV screen. Roberto gets feelings for Guadalupe. She starts to feel something for Steve. Steve, meanwhile, shows some interest in Raquel. Ah, love.

It’s all a bit confusing –  like life, especially one in which communication is limited by natural or artificial barriers. But once you get used to it, you’ll relax into this charming story about people trying to communicate.

All four actors are excellent, especially Coleman and Nuvoa as their TV counterparts, in colorful costumes (by Carmen Amon) and heightened lighting by Curtis Mueller.

”Guadalupe in the Guest Room” is part of the theater’s Latinx-centered Teatro Pueblo Nuevo program, founded by NVA’s associate artistic director/actor Nadia Guevara, who shows promise as she takes the directorial reins for the first time. It plays through Oct. 28.

The details

“Guadalupe in the Guest Room” plays through October 28, 2018 at New Village Arts, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (760) 433.3245 or newvillagearts.org.