Theater Review: Is Milagritos a Play or a Religious Experience?

Attending many plays is a blessing and a curse. There is nothing like live theater; however, seeing the same plays, or types of plays, over and over can become a bit routine. At Cara Mia Theatre this month, there’s something that breaks the routine, a play, Milagritos, based on the short stories of Sandra Cisneros and performed by a company of performers and artists who have fashioned a theater experience that feels more like a religious event that transcends its earthly venue. From the opening, when the actors and musicians dance, sing, and clap as they process down the aisles towards the stage, it is easy to imagine you are at a festive Mass rather than a simple play.

And that is the beauty of this show, because it is, in fact, simple, but executed beautifully, and with such spiritual and earnest precision by director David Lozano and his artistic ensemble. The play is based on short stories from the collection Woman Hollering Creek by Cisneros and adapted for the stage by Marisela Barrera. The name “milagritos” comes from the story “Little Miracles, Kept Promises.” That story is comprised of a series of letters from Mexican-Americans, addressed to the patron saint of Mexico, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The adaptation focuses on Chayo (Vanessa DeSilvio) who writes the last letter in the story and represents the tension of living as a modern Chicana woman who is a single, independent thinking artist. She feels lost between classes: “I’m amphibious;” and keenly aware of her unattached nature: “No woman wants to live alone, I do!”

Along with flashbacks and childhood pastiches of Chayo as Chayito (Frida Espinosa-Müller) we see various other petitions, sacrifices, and sacraments in the form of candles, letters, and prayers offered to Mary: “so many milagritos pinned here.”

It is a very Catholic-centric show with its many nods to, saints, specialized prayers and rituals which plays into the conversational yet confessional tone; however, the nods to Buddha, Yahweh, Allah, the Spirit, the Light, and the Tao universalize the experience even more for the audience.

Sincere performances by the rest of the ensemble (Rodney Garza, Ana González, Cesar Hernandez, and Priscilla Rice) are stylized, but work for the ritualistic nature of the show. DeSilvio’s performance as Chayo is multi-layered and emotionally evocative, and her singing voice is angelic.

The space is more of an auditorium than a theater, and sometimes the booming and echoing acoustics cause words to get lost, but the original music score by S-Ankh Rasa, and rousing musical accompaniment provided by Armando Monsivias, Rasa, and Mauricio Barrozo do much to salve those auditory wounds. Lively and colorful costume design by Kristin Moore, and whimsical moves choreographed by Michelle Gibson contribute to the show’s feast for the eyes.

For something a little different in this season of holiday fare and the usual theatrical suspects, why not pin your hopes on this infectiously entertaining and moving show.