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Destined to Grow Up

[whitespace] The House on Mango Street Accomplished Fates: Mirla Reyes (left), Zochitl López and Carla Pantojoa watch over Alicia Rizzo in Teatro Visión's 'The House on Mango Street.'

Davie Lepori

A Latina girl comes of age in 'The House on Mango Street'

By Heather Zimmerman

IT'S OFTEN said that the ghosts of the past accompany us throughout our lives, but in The House on Mango Street, "specters" of the past and future guide a girl through her coming of age. Adapted by Amy Ludwig from a book by Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street offers an intimate look into the thoughts and feelings of a young Latina, Esperanza, growing up in the Chicago barrio. Teatro Visión stages a vibrant production of Cisneros' thoughtful and bittersweet work.

In language and structure, the script remains faithful to the book, which is an asset and a hindrance. Ludwig has retained Cisneros' appealingly poetic prose, which provides some vivid imagery that lends itself well to the stage and also translates nicely into Michael Palumbo's playful sets and Yolanda Cotterall's colorful costumes.

But the book's unusual format proves more difficult for a stage adaptation. Cisneros charts Esperanza's growth into young adulthood in a series of very brief chapters that are like self-contained vignettes. Staging these vignettes produces mixed results, because often the transitions between them are so abrupt as to be distracting, making some scenes seem like strange nonsequiturs.

Two actors portray Esperanza: Alicia Rizzo is the young protagonist of the vignettes and Mirla Reyes plays the now-grown narrator. The two Esperanzas are always onstage together. As the older version of Esperanza looks back on her childhood, narrating it for the audience, the younger Esperanza acts out the narration. The constant presence of the two "versions" of one person onstage not only plays on the idea that you can never escape your past but also hints at the idea of destiny--a theme introduced late in the show with the appearance of las comadres, three mysterious sisters not unlike the Three Fates who predict Esperanza's future.

The simultaneous presence of two Esperanzas also explores the story's theme of duality. As she grows into adolescence, Esperanza struggles with two dilemmas: being no longer a child and not yet an adult; and the clash of class and culture.

Director Jesús A. Reyes makes the production buzz with youthful energy, for the most part channeling it capably into the joys and sorrows of Esperanza and those around her. As the young Esperanza, Rizzo beautifully captures the exhilaration and the pain of adolescence, both thrilled and aghast as she realizes the sexual power of her gender, delightfully growing to embrace her love of words and storytelling. The ensemble tackles a host of colorful Mango Street denizens with obvious relish, playing many of the roles for big laughs, but even then, the broadest of caricatures is not without sympathy.

Perhaps it's particularly fitting that The House on Mango Street marks Teatro Visión's first production in a larger performance space, the CET Theater, where the company will remain until its permanent move to the Mexican Cultural Heritage Gardens and Plaza in the fall. Just as Esperanza begins to realize what she can potentially achieve for herself and her family and friends by pursuing her talent for writing, so The House on Mango Street offers a celebration of identity and culture that announces the arrival of an exuberant and powerful new voice.

The House on Mango Street plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through March 14 at the CET Theater, 701 Vine St., San Jose. Tickets are $10-$12 Thursday and Sunday; $12-$15 Friday-Saturday. (408/947-8227).

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From the March 4-10, 1999 issue of Metro.

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