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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Three generations of Latinas swim against the tide in ‘Las Mujeres del Mar’

Dyana Ortelli and Israel López Reyes in Playwrights’ Arena’s “Las Mujeres del Mar.”
Dyana Ortelli and Israel López Reyes in Playwrights’ Arena’s “Las Mujeres del Mar.”
(Kelly Stuart)

A good portion of “Las Mujeres del Mar” (The Women of the Sea), a new play from “Riverdale” writer Janine Salinas Schoenberg, is in Spanish. Supertitles are used, but only sporadically.

That’s not as much of an impediment to non-Spanish speakers as you might think. In this Playwrights’ Arena production at Atwater Village Theatre, the interactions among Schoenberg’s characters are so emotionally specific that we can interpolate the meanings without words.

This generational saga of three Latina women, whose trials and tribulations span some 30 years, commences as Virginia (Dyana Ortelli) loses her beloved fisherman husband (Israel López Reyes) to the sea, then flees her grossly abusive second husband (Eddie Ruiz) with her little girl, Marina (Adriana Sevahn Nichols).

They reach the United States but find no safe harbor here. As Marina grows up, she becomes subsumed into the drug culture of Los Angeles and winds up in prison, and Virginia must step in to raise Marina’s little girl Lupe (Gabriela Ortega), who is seduced into the gangs and becomes pregnant at an early age.

Gabriela Ortega plays Lupe, and Adriana Sevahn Nichols is her grandmother, Virginia, in Playwrights’ Arena’s “Las Mujeres del Mar.”
Gabriela Ortega, left, plays Lupe, and Adriana Sevahn Nichols is her mother, Marina, in Playwrights’ Arena’s “Las Mujeres del Mar.”
(Kelly Stuart)
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It is only belatedly that we realize the seemingly saintly Virginia allowed Marina to be sexually abused by her rotating retinue of boyfriends, an 11th-hour revelation thrown in without sufficient foreshadowing. Once Marina is released from prison, her lifelong estrangement from her daughter is resolved in a city minute.

Despite the occasionally knee-jerk plot, the unfolding events are largely secondary to the tonal coloration and empathetic depth. That overdue reconciliation between Marina and Lupe jerks its fair share of tears, and Virginia’s frequent interactions with her long-dead first husband give a magical-realistic tweak to what might otherwise have been a pedestrian tale of life on the margins of the American dream.

An eclectic assortment of world premieres are on offer this week, from a fact-based fictionalization of the Armenian genocide to an escapist political farce.

Director Diane Rodriguez and an able cast, which also includes Valentina Guerra and Camila Rozo, invest Schoenberg’s play with a bracing realism that makes its detours into the mystical all the more effective. Among the design elements, Mextly Couzin’s lighting design is a standout, while original music by Adam Schoenberg (the playwright’s husband) is intrinsic to the wistful mood.

“Las Mujeres” never holds back its passion, fire and commitment. It is a moving parable of motherly love, imperfect but enduring.

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'Las Mujeres del Mar'
Where: Playwrights’ Arena at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Mondays, through Oct. 14. The Oct. 5 performance is at 4 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

Tickets: $20-$40

Info: (800) 838-3006, playwrightsarena.org

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

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