By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
You needn't be a Catholic scholar to realize that the Virgin of Guadalupe, who first appeared just northwest of Mexico City in 1531, has pretty much surpassed her theological source, The Virgin Mary, in popularity from Texas through Central America. Often referred to as "The Patroness of the Americas," she has for centuries been the source of feverish requests for health, money, love, and other of life's necessities; the faithful wear her on heirloom jewelry, on T-shirts, and in shrines at the back of pickup trucks.
In other words, the Americas' version of the virgin is simultaneously sacred and laid-back, unearthly and approachable, although perhaps consulted more by the poor than by the moneyed. So I wonder if the irreverence displayed in Milagritas/Little Miracles, the centerpiece of Cara Mia's Virgen Project, would actually escalate into heresy for the devout. Marisela Barrera, artistic director of Cara Mia, has adapted a story from Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek, which is an unqualified piece of feminist art. And while it can be argued that Barrera has guided her wonderfully restless, comedically gifted lead actor Marinca Calo-Oy to both revere and tweak the lady from Guadalupe, my thought was that the Virgin emerged from this modest, moving, and hilarious production with a few bruises from all the pokes. Calo-Oy plays both a painter creating an image of the Virgin, and the Virgin herself, who has encouraged both virtue and submission among Latinas. With her high forehead, gentle eyes, and solemn mouth, Calo-Oy as the Virgin looks remarkably like a living statue, which makes her interaction with a series of South Texas Catholics (played by Frances Munoz, Marco Rodriguez, Mary Z. Ponce, and Efrain Rene) who seek silly and serious remedies all the more striking. This Virgin flirts, taunts, raps, and checks her makeup in a hand mirror, according to the audience she keeps; in the end, she is just reflecting her worshippers, an observation that, while pretty commonsensical, nonetheless doesn't bolster her iconic status.
Director Marisela Barrera opens the evening with her own 15-minute monologue called Virgin Manifestations, which reflects the general shortcomings of los de abajo have nowhere left to fall, her piece for the Festival of Independent Theatres. She tends to speak in a cant of identity politics that, while clearly deeply personal to her, lacks the concrete details to make it seem more than polemical. Few scraps from Barrera's life and memory seem to have survived this obtuse reverie about the sexual and maternal impulses warring in women; the result seems more like an academic treatise than a confession.