As the specter of death looms at Ophelia’s Jump in Upland, six women (four Latina, one Native American, and one Anglo-Saxon) perform in a vertiginous barrage of enthusiasm and passion.
By John Lavitt
Upland, CA (The Hollywood Times) 03/29/22 – There is no doubt that the West Coast Premiere of The Hall of Final Ruin at Ophelia’s Jump on March 12, 2022, in Upland, California, was a true celebration of opportunity and inclusion. Continuing until April 10th, the play is a celebration of inclusion and opportunity. Transforming traditional theatre stereotypes, the diversity of the cast and creators opens doors and breaks imaginary glass ceilings. Although there are challenging areas in the process of the execution of a flawed script, a clear affirmation is the realization of the vision behind the production.
In the play’s program, if you pay close attention, you learn the following: “It’s 1846. The madrina of Santa Fe, La Tules Barceló (Candida Celaya), knows she’s going to die. She needs to settle her account with death so she can be buried in her beloved ‘La Parroquia’. But $20,000 in American Gold and the arrival of Sister Jane, a righteous protestant with skeletons in her closet, complicate La Tules’s plans and time is running out!”
As directed by Beatrice Casagran, The Hall of Final Ruin at Ophelia’s Jump is a nonstop runaway train from the opening scene to the very end. The dedication and focus of the cast are undeniable, and they work well with each other. Moreover, the production values are very high with beautiful set decorations and props that range from religious artifacts and colorful textiles to antique chairs and golden coins. Overall, the love put into this production is visceral and contagious. Lacking a deeper knowledge of the background and context of the play, however, there is an inevitable confusion lurking.
Beneath The Hall of Final Ruin, the play’s subtitle is “The Americans Are Coming. The Mexicans Are Leaving. And Death Is Patiently Waiting.” The subtitle supposedly provides the audience with a particular understanding of what is happening. However, as written by Kelly Mcburnette-Andronicos, the play is almost as tricky as spelling the playwright’s last name. The problem is a lack of historical context and character construction in the first act. Thrown quickly into a rowdy and fast-paced comedic drama, an audience member without extensive knowledge of the historical background and setting of the play is tossed into a whirlpool of confusion.
Given such a reaction, there is a solid argument that the play’s problems reside not in the production or the acting but the script’s construction. If you do not speak Spanish and know certain colloquialisms, key moments in the script are a mystery. With no experience with Spanish beyond the obvious, I did not know the definitions of a madrina, calavera, or many other Spanish terms tossed about from the beginning to the end of the production.
Being a winner of the Southern Playwrights Competition and the Renaissance Theaterworks Br!NK Award, the playwright Kelly Mcburnette-Andronicos knows how to build characters and establish storylines. Rather than enter into a storm of conflict in the first act, how about providing more context and specific orientation for the theatergoer who fails to read the production notes? A good amount of the story is potentially lost in translation by starting at such a hurried pace.
However, despite my arguments with the playwright and the play’s construction, I recommend this production at Ophelia’s Jump in Upland. My major protestations are with the play and not the highly energetic and enthusiastic production. The highlight of The Hall of Final Ruin at Ophelia’s Jump is Brittany Sanchez Hanson as Doña Sebastiaña, the lurking figure of death. She never fails to entertain with aplomb and wit when she rambles on stage with her death cart like an American updating of the Death Collector in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. She steals the show from the opening scene to the powerful ending, interacting and playing with the audience.
At one point, literally sitting by my side in the front row, Doña Sebastiaña gave me a Mexican lollipop called a Tamarindo candy. As I write the conclusion to this review, I am sucking on the lollipop, which is a strange confection to my taste buds. Salty and sour, sweet and spicy, the tastemakers try to do so much with this lollipop that they do not quite accomplish any of their goals. Nevertheless, from an experiential point of view, it is a new experience. Although the script’s weaknesses reflect the trying-to-taste-like-everything efforts of the lollipop, the energetic and beautiful production of The House of Final Ruin, as directed by Beatrice Casagran, is worth seeing. Indeed, in the resonant light of the production’s diversity and inclusion, it deserves to be celebrated.
The House of Final Ruin opened on Saturday, March 12, 2022, and runs through Sunday, April 10. Regular performances: Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Admission: Previews $20. Thursdays $28. Fridays through Sundays $30. Children (age 10-12) $22. Reservations: (909)734-6565. Online ticketing: http://opheliasjump.org