26 Miles

by Michael Martin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday December 5, 2009

Jackie Rivera and Evelyn Perez in 26 Miles.
Jackie Rivera and Evelyn Perez in 26 Miles.  

Continuing its dedication to the development of new works, the New Theatre in Coral Gables is currently presenting 26 Miles by Quiara Alegria Hudes, a nominated author for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and who penned the book for the Tony Award winning musical, In The Heights.

In 26 Miles, Hudes explores a tumultuous relationship between mother and daughter fraught with misconceptions and misunderstandings for years.

Daughter Olivia (Jackie Rivera) has been living with her Jewish father Aaron (Derek Warriner) since the age of six, after Aaron divorced Olivia's Cuban-American mother, Beatriz (Evelyn Perez).

Both parents have since remarried, but Aaron's new wife, Deborah, is not so tolerant of Olivia. Deborah even refuses to allow the teen to enter the third floor of the house, where she shares the master bedroom with the girl's father.

Unsatisfied with support from her father after she admits to being ill and throwing up at least sixteen times, Olivia calls her mother in the middle of the night to tell her of the episodic sickness.

Beatriz's fiery Latin personality kicks into high gear when she drives over to attend to her daughter, but ends up kidnapping the child instead. The two then embark on a road trip bound for Yosemite National Park in Wyoming, where Olivia hopes to realize a childhood dream of seeing buffalo roam freely before her very eyes.

The lengthy car ride allows time for the two characters to unload a plethora of issues that each has been hoarding within themselves throughout the past ten years.

Olivia wonders why she hasn't heard from her mother in nearly five months. Beatriz blames the disassociation with her attention to her troubled marriage with current husband Manuel (Christopher Vicchiollo), but also reminds her daughter that she was forced out of the primary caretaker position by Aaron, who used Beatriz's illegal alien status against her during custody hearings.

Rivera and Perez expertly dissect their characters to reveal a wide range of emotions that surface during the troubled journey. The acting from both is natural, unforced, and inviting. The intimate theater allows the audience to be consumed with the actresses' well selected facial expressions and body movement.

Hudes' male characters receive only minor and supporting focus. Warriner aptly portrays the selfish Aaron, but Vicchiollo neither looks nor sounds Latin when compared to the authenticity of Perez at his side.

Hudes' script does wonder from time to time, and director Ricky Martinez could have contained the story a bit by eliminating some of the author's excess. A scene in which Beatriz and Aaron reenact a more Bohemian lifestyle in their younger days, for example, failed to further the plot. Earlier dialogue had already established that the couple once enjoyed a freer time together.

Still, Hudes displays a keen knack for the written word, and Rivera and Perez, two very talented actresses, particularly serve the playwright proud justice.

26 Miles continues through December 20th at New Theatre, 4120 Laguna Street, Coral Gables. For more information, visit the the theater's website.

Michael Martin has been an active member of Actors' Equity for over 20 years. As a professional actor, he has toured many parts of the US and the world. Originally from St. Louis, he now resides in Miami.