Playwright Migdalia Cruz’s first work — set in the mid-1970s –focuses on the brutal coming of age of 14-year-old Lillian Rivera (America Ferrera), a prisoner of the tenements whose pure soul transcends the hopelessness of her life. This one-acter lacks the requisite thematic inventiveness and development to be considered a major work, but it displays Cruz’s profound insight into the lives of the people who populated her youth. Actress-director Diane Rodriguez (founder of comedy troupe Latins Anonymous) guides an excellent four-person ensemble through every nuance of Lillian’s journey to self-discovery.
The youthful Ferrera (“Real Women Have Curves”), who received the first special jury prize ever given for acting at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, offers a haunting portrayal of the self-deluding Lillian. Barely into her teens, Lillian wages a daily battle to survive the bitter hopelessness of her mother, Carmen (Maricela Ochoa), and the utter uselessness of her alcoholic father, Jose (Julian Scott Urena). Lillian’s only refuge is the fire escape outside her living room window, where she writes of her life. Her only connection to reality is her best friend Michi (Elisa Bocanegra of “Girlfight”), a hardened veteran of tenement life who has what Lillian lacks, the intelligence and desire to get out of the neighborhood and make something of her life.
Ochoa offers a telling portrait of Carmen, whose natural intelligence and vitality has been crushed under the weight of poverty and her failed marriage. She is matched by Urena’s impressive portrayal of Jose, a delusional drunk incapable of controlling any aspect of his life.
Highlight of the production is Bocanegra’s sarcasm-laden outing as Lillian’s friend. Her Michi achieves a perfect balance between affection for and impatience with her pal, whom she knows will be doomed for life by her own inadequacies.
The production is facilitated nicely by Akeime Mitterlehner’s believable tenement setting, accented by the lighting of Rand Ryan and sound by Drew Dalzell.