Events in childhood tend to magnify in the mind over the years, as occurances that would be mundane take on extra significance to a young mind. In The House on Mango Street, a first bike ride through the neighborhood or a bag of old shoes sits side by side with shootings and stolen cars.
Sandra Cisneros's original novel presented a dense, poetic look at life growing up in El Barrio. The stage production, crafted by Amy Ludwig, directed by Dipankar Mukherjee, and presented as a co-production between Teatro Del Pueblo and Pangea World Theater, retains the poetry and moment-to-moment beauty, but sometimes has trouble maintaining the energy needed to fully engage the audience.
The play follows Esperanza, who narrates her adventures. She and her friends are constantly on the lookout for new places and ways to play, taking the rough nature of their neighborhood as a given. These moments can be sweet and funny, like the scene when Esperanza and her friends spend a day with a bag of old shoes. They can also change perspective quickly. At one moment, the kids of the neighborhood are riding around the block in a Cadillac that, in the next, we discover was stolen, with the driver trying to flee the scene.
Most of the ensemble takes on the numerous characters in Esperanza's life, with two actors -- Alejandra C. Tobar-Alatriz (younger) and Adlyn Carreras (older) -- playing our main character. They split the narrative and help to provide some additional perspective to life on Mango Street.
Befitting a piece that takes a poetic look on the past, the staging is largely impressionistic. The various homes are merely platforms, all painted red. The red neighborhood becomes even more important in the play's central moment, when Esperanza finds herself in a particularly dark place at a local fair. At this point, ribbons of red cloth are pulled out to surround and entangle her, as if this moment permanently tied her to this place and time.
Even with these good moments, my attention did drift for stretches of the play, as there was little narrative push forward, just action from scene to scene. Either a stronger narrative arc, or a sharpening of the moments presented, could help the show stay on target.
Otherwise, The House on Mango Street is a sometimes sweet, sometimes sad, sometimes tragic look at life in one particular neighborhood. One that could stand in for a lot of neighborhoods across the world.
IF YOU GO
The House on Mango Street
Through April 28
The Southern Theater 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis