You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘The Way She Spoke’ With Kate del Castillo

The 'docu-mythologia' about the disappeared women of Juarez, Mexico, is both sobering and distancing.

Kate del Castillo.

1 hour 20 minutes

Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the subject head-on with a story about a playwright who goes to Juarez to understand what has happened there.

But despite its important, difficult subject matter and its attempts to draw broader parallels to the treatment of women the world over, the work suffers from an odd detachment. The story’s emotional core is short-circuited by the play’s structure and the production’s approach. Foregrounded but enervating theatricality rests uneasily against the documentary elements, and the voices of the real people who have suffered get lost in the dramatizing.

Led by Mexican film and television star del Castillo, the play is framed around an unnamed actress helping an unseen playwright friend with a reading of his play—what he calls a “docu-mythologia” about “las desaparecidas” of Juarez.

Del Castillo’s character enters fresh off a frustrating audition for yet another stereotypical role for a Latinx woman. She picks up the script to read it aloud, discovering its subject as she goes, breaking character at times to converse with the silent playwright and convey her horror and astonishment at what he’s written about.

Turning back to the text — which is performed in a mix of English, Spanish and Spanglish — she portrays an array of characters, from shell-shocked mothers to anguished bystanders to violent monsters, often in monologues. But her primary job is to play the narrating playwright on this trip as he interviews the people he meets (based on interviews Gomez conducted in real life).

With slight costume adjustments throughout — kicking off her heels, putting her hair into a ponytail — del Castillo dons characters including a butch bus driver, a childhood friend of the playwright’s, and the slouching playwright himself. Her characterizations are clear, but they’re not always lived-in: One scene, in which she plays a grieving father raging against the apathy of government officials, exclusively in Spanish, brings out something deeper in her. But more often she’s wearing the external trappings of her subjects, not touching their internal lives.

One of the play’s more successful moments comes when the playwright and his local guide, Blanca, go into a corner store and show us first-hand what life in Juarez looks like for women. There Blanca demonstrates for her friend how men prey on women alone. Del Castillo plays all the parts in this chilling scenario — macho gun-toting predators and Blanca shrinking into her own skin — with precision.

But in general, the production elements come off as both dull and distracting. The static production, directed by Jo Bonney, uses abrupt, obvious lighting cues to switch between scenes in Juarez and “the stage” where the actress speaks as herself. There are literal silhouette-style projections on a brick wall which give us wisps of a setting — trees, barbed wire, crosses. Often, they overemphasize what we have already been told.

The production bears the thick air of the performative. Honest emotion is lost behind enacted sentiment. The actress’s questions to the playwright kick us out of the story, reminding us we are in a theater and these events are happening elsewhere.

While the people of Juarez are audibly there on stage, they remain shrouded in all this theatricality. Rather than fade into the background, Gomez pulls our focus with his authorial presence and frequent narration. One wishes he’d leave his journey on the sidelines so that the other voices could come forward without interference.

The fact that the world has collectively ignored and looked away from this tidal wave of violence should fill us with rage and fury. The play wants us to see, hear, and feel it. A lot of personal tribulations and horrific, graphic details are shared. But despite the painful, vital, difficult topic, this telling of the story keeps us at arm’s length and allows us far too many escapes. We should not be able to forget what’s happened, and yet it passes too easily before us.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

Minetta Lane Theatre; 391 seats; $45 top. Opened July 18, 2019. Reviewed July 15. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Production: An Audible, Inc. production of a play in one act by Isaac Gomez.

Creative: Directed by Jo Bonney. Sets, Riccardo Hernandez; costumes, Emilio Sosa; hair and makeup, J. Jared Janas; lighting, Lap Chi Chu; sound, Elisheba Ittoop; projection design, Aaron Rhyne; production stage manager, Evangeline Rose Whitlock.

Cast: Kate del Castillo.

More Legit

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content