Yale Cabaret

In the opening scene of “Ni Mi Madre,” the show’s sole actor emerges in his underpants carrying a candle onto center stage before he dons a white dress and begins dancing to Cher’s “Believe.” The scene establishes an intense intimacy between the actor, playing the mother of a young man, and his audience, which at times struck me as hilarious and at others heartbreaking. The one-person play traces a narrative of Arturo, a young man, and his childhood; his relationship with his vibrant and volatile Brazilian mother; and all his grandmother’s secrets, which reveal themselves in epiphanies throughout the mother’s hourlong monologue.

Arturo Soria DRA ’19 has been writing different iterations of this play for 10 years. It has developed from first person narration to improvisation to reading personal journal entries out loud, always narrating the relationship between the young man and his mother. Eventually, Soria transcribed text from recordings of his improvisations and brought the screenplay to Rory Pelsue DRA ’18, the associate artistic director of “Ni Mi Madre,” to be considered for production at the Yale Cabaret. Danilo Gambini DRA ’20, the director of “Ni Mi Madre,” helped bring Soria’s script to this production in its most fully realized format.

The set is colored in striking warm hues that highlight the mother’s emotive and expressive persona. The set floor is covered in sand, showing how the mother constantly reminisces about Brazilian culture. The set takes root in Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion: The back wall features a mural of Yemanjá, the Umbandan goddess of the sea. I enjoyed the range of music that oscillates between traditional Brazilian music and modern American pop music, bridging the two cultures that Arturo’s mother embodies. Arturo’s mother peppers her speech with Spanish and Portuguese, which encapsulates her refusal to explain herself, to translate herself, to express herself in any way that contradicts her authenticity.

Throughout the play, the mother explores the hilarious aspects of marriage, raising children and her own creativity. She promises the audience that she will write a book about her three husbands, whom she nicknames “the inebriated Jew,” “the Ecuadorian Communist,” and “the gay Dominican.” The mother unapologetically rates each husband in terms of their sexual competence and toasts each one with a small glass of sherry onstage. Just as the mother has the audience laughing at her merciless criticism of each husband and each of her three children, she throws herself into a flashback, remembering her own mother: “My mother never wanted to be a mother.” I was moved by these intense turning moments: when Soria had the audience laughing at vulgar jokes and innuendo in one moment, and, following a sound cue of waves, suddenly confused and disillusioned with the mother’s own past.

In our discussion after the play, I asked Soria about the mother’s flashbacks to her own mother’s words: I was struck by the sound of washing ocean waves each time the mother recalled Arturo’s grandmother. Soria informed me of his own associations between waves and breath, that each time the sound of waves filled the stage, the mother was transported in time by her own mother’s breath and by her piercing words. Soria explained to me the Brazilian notion of waves symbolizing forgiveness, that, in Rio, Brazilian people celebrate the new year by jumping over waves. I found that the idea of words passing through generations, and of waves giving life to these words, translated beautifully onstage.

I was struck by how the mother’s relationship with Arturo reads as both loving and volatile. While the mother constantly reminds Arturo that she loves him more than anything in the “whole wide world,” she also reminds the audience that “If he fucks with me, I fuck with him,” and justifies her violence by her refrain, “He came out of my vagina!” I found that within the mother’s hostility — in the middle of the play, she asks to borrow a phone from the audience in order to text Arturo: “Dear Papito, I beat your ass because you deserved it!” — her deep affection reveals itself to the audience.

Similarly, I was moved by the mother’s narration of her son’s sexuality, which, like the entire play, feels both hilarious and heartbreaking. I was struck by the deep fissure represented in the articulation of Arturo’s sexuality through his mother’s lens as opposed to his father’s lens. The moments during which Arturo’s mother discusses Arturo’s sexuality feel so sensitive and tender that I envisioned his own body and voice on the stage, permeating his mother’s voice.

The mother recalls singing Arturo’s favorite song, “Live for Loving You,” to him as a baby and supporting his love for dance class. While Arturo’s mother fervently supports her son’s sexuality, she notes the tragedy in her husband’s disappointment: He demands that she not “make my son gay” and forces Arturo to play sports to display heterosexual masculinity. In the midst of cracking jokes about her husband and her disobedient son, the mother articulates a nuanced distinction between her husband’s Marxist celebration of community and her own celebration of her body as a community. I had never before imagined the body, and more broadly sexuality, as a community that is shared and explained through generations in that way.

I was deeply moved by Sario’s consistently hilarious energy; by his ability to seamlessly weave tragedy, tension and humor; and by the bravery he exerted in recounting a personal and vulnerable narrative. The play will run from Oct. 26 to Oct. 28 with 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. performances.

Annie Nieldsannie.nields@yale.edu