Theater: “ISLEÑA” (Island Girl)

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Peter Hall (Buffalo Rising) writes, “ISLEÑA (Island Girl) brings the flavor of Puerto Rico to the Road Less Traveled Stage with a personal story of pain, acceptance, and joy.” Isleña is a one-woman play co-written by sisters Victoria Pérez and María Pérez Gómez. Directed by María Pérez Gómez, it is presented by Raíces Theatre, running through July 3 on stage at Road Less Traveled (456 Main Street Buffalo, New York). 

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  ISLEÑA is a one-woman show dealing with Victoria Pérez’s real-life uprooting from her beloved Puerto Rico to join extended family in Buffalo when she was 9 years old.  It’s about the struggle to define her identity while living in the diaspora.  As the title character turns 40 years old, her husband surprises her with a family trip back to the island.  As she packs for the return to her homeland she must unpack memories that she buried long ago in order to survive.  She is forced to reconcile with her inner child and accept both the joyful and the traumatic experiences she had growing up on the island.  Isleña celebrates family, tradition, culture, music, (lots and lots of music), and ultimately the longing to return home.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  I recall several years ago when the actress Victoria Pérez posted a selfie on Facebook following her vacation trip to Puerto Rico.  Everyone commented on how radiant she looked, years younger, exuding calm and happiness.  It was quite a pic, and more than just your typical “I’m on vacation” shot.  Now, having seen her play, ISLEÑA, I know the rest of the story.  

The play with extended music opens with Pérez cooking arroz y habichuelas in her on-stage kitchen, making up a song, trying to rhyme with aquí (here), and happily coming up with coquí (a little frog native only to Puerto Rico named for the loud call the males make at night, with the “koh” repelling other males and the “kee” attracting females).  Like the tree flower Flor de Maga, it is a national symbol of the island.

Pretty soon she’s using her pots and pans as percussion instruments; she explains the basic rhythm of salsa (1-2, 1-2-3); and before long, the band, behind a scrim, joins in, and we’re off! ¡Wepa!

Little by little, we find out that Pérez was uprooted at the age of nine from her lovely island.  

Fact: Every year five (5!) million tourists travel from the U.S. mainland to visit for a chance to feel those warm island breezes, so you can imagine how this nine-year-old felt coming to Buffalo only a decade or so after the famous Blizzard of ’77. 

Ultimately, we come to the crunch point of the play, the climax, the real reason that she hasn’t been one of those five million turistas traveling to the island.  The climax is brought on by her husband telling her that for her milestone 40th birthday, the family is going “back home” for a vacation.  But something happened to her there when she was only four and it’s been with her, buried deep, and now it’s got to be faced. [. . .]

[Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6:00pm. Tickets can be reserved by calling 716-381-9333 or visiting ticketstripe.com/islenaonewomanshow, or visit roadlesstraveledproductions.org]

For full review, see https://www.buffalorising.com/2022/06/islena-island-girl-brings-the-flavor-of-puerto-rico-to-the-road-less-traveled-stage-with-a-personal-story-of-pain-acceptance-and-joy

‘ISLEÑA’ is a powerful, joyful experience from Raíces Theatre
Anthony Chase, Buffalo News, June 21, 2022
https://buffalonews.com/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/isle-a-is-a-powerful-joyful-experience-from-ra-ces-theatre/article_398f0452-f0a7-11ec-86cd-3f5c8b0a60de.html

A powerhouse, one-woman show!
Ann Marie Cusella, Welcome 516, June 20, 2022
https://welcome716.com/2022/06/20/theater-review-islena

Isleña
Victoria Pérez and María Pérez-Gómez
Until July 3, 2022
Raíces Theatre Company
Road Less Traveled Theater, 456 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14202
https://raicestheatrecompany.com/2022/05/18/up-next-islena

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