Over 2,500 years ago, the goddess Persephone was abducted by Hades and dragged into the underworld. There, she awaited rescue and fended off her abductor’s seduction, save for the final consumption of pomegranate seeds. In present times, Persephone does more than eat just a few pomegranate seeds. She gets knocked up and doesn’t pick up the phone when mama calls.
At least, she does according to Reese Smith DRA ’10.
Smith takes the ancient Greek myth and interprets it in a daring new way with her play “Estrella Cruz,” directed by Jesse Jou DRA ’10 at the Yale Cabaret. Estrella, the modern Persephone, daughter of “the most beautiful inventor in all of Here,” is played by Smith herself. Whisked away to The Junkyard, Estrella finds Pablo the Junker (Joby Earle DRA ’10) and immediately falls into his bed and gets pregnant. She believes herself in love, ignores her mom’s phone calls, spurns rescue, gains weight and eats nonstop.
The play does not skimp on comedy. A series of video clips play in the background throughout, beginning with a tooth-brightening commercial introducing the characters Aurelia (Christina Maria Acosta DRA ’10) and Estrella Cruz. The black-and-white videos range from confessional footage to press releases and newscasts to commercials, satirically overacted and accompanied by cheeky music. The clips are integrated into the action of the play, injecting a regular dose of humor every 10 minutes that steadily reveals Aurelia and Estrella’s relationship.
The humor sometimes takes center stage, at the cost of the clarity of the play’s message. For supposedly being a play about Cuba’s recent history of oppression, economic hardship and emigration to America, “Estrella Cruz” manages to avoid all mention of Cuba. Instead, we have names of settings like “The World of Here” or “The Junkyard” and confusing references to inventions being starving and unhappy. The only hint of supposed Cuban-American culture lies in the smatterings of Spanish throughout the play.
Between the heavy video focus on various satirical elements and the perplexing characters, who aside from Estrella have only a few lines each, the play loses its focus. Sometimes the videos don’t offer anything besides a humorous reprieve, and the placement of the screen behind the set distracts and makes them hard to view. The few other characters — such as kidnapper/cook/reporter/moon Bette Davis (Brenna Palughi DRA ’10) — are underdeveloped and difficult to relate to.
The one point that the play does develop clearly is Estrella’s coming of age. Estrella’s carefree naivete is outrageous but endearing — she makes the most of her situation, whether surrounded by her mother’s world of inventions or Pablo’s world of junk. She fools herself into believing she’s famous and adored in her mother’s world or loved by Pablo.
The play’s most poignant elements are found in Estrella’s growing separation from these two forces and the different expectations they set upon her. Smith’s performance, over the top at first, with wide-eyed ingenuity, becomes stronger and more believable through the play as she portrays Estrella’s increasing responsibility and disillusion. The most convincing moments occur in the mother-daughter tension between Estrella and Aurelia. When Aurelia calls to chastise and beg her daughter, Acosta perfectly captures the motherly fears and frustration. When Estrella brags about her mother’s intelligence and beauty but rebels against her instruction, Smith delivers both the youthful admiration and the teenage stubbornness with precision.
In “Estrella Cruz’”’s mythic world of living inventions and people ignorant of emotions, the dynamics of pride and love that lie between mother and daughter rings true.