The cultural and emotional chasm that separates a first-generation Puerto Rican immigrant couple from their Americanized offspring is the focus of Jose Rivera’s predictable but effective probe into the dysfunctional lives of those inhabiting “The House of Ramon Iglesia.” Unfortunately, much of the strength in Rivera’s work is diluted by an uneven ensemble and stilted staging by director Dell Yount.
This stage work has a true villain and it doesn’t say a word. It is the clapboard Long Island tract house that has imprisoned Ramon Iglesia (Richard Leos) and his family since they emigrated from Puerto Rico 19 years earlier. His wife, Dolores (Eve Rivera), after many years, still blames its malfunctioning furnace for the death of her infant daughter.
Their upwardly mobile, college-educated eldest son, Javier (Oscar Arguello), views the house as the personification of his parents’ and his two younger brothers’ failure to assimilate. And now, as Ramon and Dolores prepare to return to their native land, legal entanglements in selling the house to their oily neighbor Nick Callas (Nicholas Coudsy) might doom their departure, trapping them forever.
Playwright Rivera has created an intriguing family dynamic. The misplaced country peasant Ramon can anesthetize himself with alcohol to the degrading realities of his life of menial labor, but he cannot survive the growing lack of respect from his family.
Dolores exhibits her hatred of life in the U.S. by refusing to speak English.
Javier can only find the strength to move out into the Anglo world by rejecting his past, including a devastatingly cruel dismissal of his longtime girlfriend, Caroline (Rachel Malkenhorst). Younger brother Julio (Antonio Del Sol) flees the disorder of his family life by joining the Marines.
It is only baby brother Charlie (Arturo Ponce) who has been infused with the need to hold on to the family roots; he yearns to return to Puerto Rico with his parents.
Director Yount allows most of these elements to dissipate. The family-set scenes drag, lacking shape or highlights.
The text is further undermined by halting, often tentative performances from most of the men in the family. The exception is Del Sol, who exhibits a seething muscular energy as Julio, the would-be Marine. Coudsy is too understated and leisurely in his portrayal of bigoted Nick, whose intimated “Italian” ties are more bluff than fact.
On the other hand, the two women are absolutely terrific. As Dolores, Rivera’s savage lament for her dead daughter is a heart-rending indictment of the curse of poverty. Malkenhorst is the absolute personification of vulnerability as the lower-class Long Island waif who only knows how to love totally, offering every part of her body, mind and soul and demanding the same in return.
The rudimentary lighting designs of Adrian Tafoya and set by Rocio Duillen create a proper backdrop for the described seedy environment.