The House on Mango Street produced by Park Square Theatre at the Andy Boss Stage

Alejandra C. Tobar in "The House on Mango Street." Photo: Petronella J. Ytsma.

Alejandra C. Tobar in “The House on Mango Street.” Photo: Petronella J. Ytsma.

Park Square Theatre celebrated the opening of its new Andy Boss Thrust Stage with “The House on Mango Street,” an adaptation by Amy Ludwig of Sandra Cisneros’ book. True to the original, the play dances from one episode to another in the life of Cisneros’ adolescent main character, retaining the narrative quality of the book and acting it out akin to the way kids play.

There are dark moments, though—many of them. But seeing them through adolescent eyes, we plunge the depths of these experiences only incrementally, as the young Esperanza observes them—until she begins to know first-hand what all of this growing up could mean, good and bad.

Director Dipankar Mukherjee embellishes the narration, as delivered by either the young Esperanza (Alejandra C. Tobar) or Older Esperanza (Adlyn Carreras), with pantomimed activity: playing ball, riding a bike, shaving and more everyday occurrences that swirl around Esperanza and of which she takes notice—but they come and go. She remembers, though: stories of domestic violence, immigrants suffering deep homesickness for Mexico, a lonely old woman, a fortune teller. Tobar and Carreras are a nice match, balancing play and danger, the present moment and recalling the past.

Mukherjee’s finest moments are when characters come together to relay one event: three girls riding a bike or a ride in a stolen Cadillac—but most especially the attack Esperanza suffers at a carnival when her friend deserts her. Tobar gives a gripping portrayal without abandoning the breezy young girl altogether. Very well done.

One can’t help but be charmed by Esperanza and her story. The difficulty is in dramatizing it, and I had in the back of mind that I thought I’d rather be reading it. The choice to present it as a narrated piece strips it of one of the main elements that creates dramatic action: people talking to each other.

Mukherjee’s choice (I presume) to have a small cast play many parts also had its glitches. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with a cast playing multiple roles, especially given the narrated style and episodic structure of the piece, and this cast is up to the challenge—all are accomplished performers. But having the men play kids, and then fathers, and then attackers … It got a little creepy. I think it might have benefited from casting adults and youth separately.

It was a pleasure to see a play in the company’s new theater space, housed in the lower level of the Hamm Building downtown St. Paul. A cozy but ample 200 seats, a generous and attractive lobby area, and a true thrust stage provide Park Square with a nice alternative to their larger proscenium theater just around the corner.

In introductory remarks by Carlos Mariani, the state representative noted that Ramsey County is the most diverse county in the state of Minnesota. It is the intention of the theater to represent that diversity in their seasons and to engage young people, as well. Mariani said the theater projects that it will contribute $100 million to the local economy over the next 10 years. The arts have an economic impact; it’s good to be reminded of that.

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