Theater Review: STIR (Old Globe Theatre in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on May 10, 2024

in Theater-San Diego


It may seem like a lifetime ago, but can you remember way back to April of 2021?  Washing canned goods with gloves on?  Masking to accept a package?  Envying 80 year olds because they had first crack at a vaccine?  It’s staggering, as we’re fully caught up in interactive life again, that that’s only three years ago.  Melinda Lopez and Joel Perez’s Stir takes us back to that time, not to dwell on the death and grief, but to share a sweet family dramedy taking place during the struggles of isolation at that time. At the Old Globe, the two writers also star as siblings Henry and Mariana.

Joel Perez as Henry and Melinda Lopez as Mariana

New Yorker Henry (Joel Perez) is a late-thirties serial monogamist gay man whose only contact with anyone, for about a year, has been his Orlando-based Papi (Al Rodrigo), with whom he’s lived with since before COVID started.  He was only supposed to stay long enough to share in Papi’s care for their dying mother/wife, but she died of cancer just as COVID lock-down started, leaving Henry stranded in Florida far, far too long.

One of the themes of the play is how absolutely central Zoom became in this time. Had the pandemic hit even a year or so earlier, all we would have had was the one-person-at-a-time, bug-ridden Skype to keep us connected (unless we were forced to use that little-known “telephone” app on our cells).  While far from replacing the intimacy of being together, the leap from phone calls to seeing each other was a key factor in keeping us together and sane in that crazy time.

Melinda Lopez as Mariana

Henry and his Buffalo-based sister Mariana don’t talk often, texting just enough to keep up with each other. Mariana, ten years older than Henry and a good cook, is begged by Henry to join him on a Zoom call to walk him through their late mother’s recipe for black beans. He is desperate to recreate the black beans his mother was so good at making so he could make a good meal for once for Papi. The play, performed as a 90-minute one-act, is almost entirely the Zoom call between them. Within this call, forced to go on for a long time because there are a lot of steps in making the beans just right, it’s not possible to just make idle chit-chat so long. As such, things start to get real. Revelations, accusations, and empathy find their way into the interaction, creating a lovely story about secrets hidden, feelings not expressed, and the impact of isolation during the pandemic.

Another theme is the power of food. The writers explore the rituals, customs, and associations we have with it and how the same events shared by two people can leave each with very different interpretations. The smells and tastes of the beans on a certain childhood camping trip bring back wonderful memories for Henry that are not matched by those of his older sister. The gradual simmering of the beans seems to reflect the slow stewing of the two trapped siblings, as well.

Melinda Lopez as Mariana, Al Rodrigo as Papi, and Joel Perez as Henry

The script throws in enough Spanish and Spanglish to give the Puerto Rican/Cuban family authenticity, but the playwrights find clever ways to make it clear what was said almost every time, so non-Spanish speakers aren’t going to miss any plot points.

Director Marcela Lorca, in association with singly-named Scenic Designer Diggle and Production Stage Manager Chandra R.M. Anthenill, make great use of the small, in-the-round Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre stage by designing two separate kitchens on wheels (one with a functioning sink and the other with a working stove-top). The actors and the sets both rotate such that when either needs a sink or a stove top, they’re each in the right version of “their” kitchen but are never actually together. Likewise, their laptops are cleverly moved to give the impression that they’re always on the other one’s screen without trapping the actors in one place.

Stir is both funny and touching and works well in continuous motion so that we feel their tension in real-time instead of jumping scenes. You’ll both see yourselves in this visit to our recent dark past and enjoy the antics of this familia loca!

Joel Perez as Henry, Melinda Lopez as Mariana, and Al Rodrigo as Papi

photos by Rich Soublet II

The Old Globe
Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8, Sun at 2 & 7
ends on May 26, 2024
for tickets, call 619.234-5623 or visit The Old Globe

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