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Review: The Hours Are Feminine Is the Story of Puerto Rican Immigrants on Long Island

José Rivera directs the world premiere of his semiautobiographical play at INTAR Theatre.

Hiram Delgado, Maribel Martinez, and Donovan Monzón-Sanders appear in the world premiere of The Hours are Feminine, written and directed by José Rivera, at INTAR Theatre.
(© Valerie Terranova)

Immigration is often a humbling experience. Solidly middle class in one’s home country, an immigrant is likely to find himself thrust into the service class upon arrival in a new one, underpaid and desperate for stable housing and employment. This is certainly the case for the Quintana family in José Rivera’s semiautobiographical drama The Hours Are Feminine, now making its world premiere at INTAR in a co-production with Radio Drama Network. Pieced together from family stories and the playwright’s own memories, it powerfully tells an age-old story while vividly capturing the particulars of a time and place.

That’s Lake Ronkonkoma in the late summer of 1960, in the small yard between the home inhabited by Charlie (Dan Grimaldi) and the shack he rents to Fernán (Hiram Delgado). Fernán has been living there for months while working at a local diner. But his wife, Evalisse (Maribel Martinez), and son, Jaivín (Donovan Monzón-Sanders), have just arrived from Puerto Rico and speak very little English — a fact that only encourages Charlie’s bad behavior.

“Pussy,” he pronounces at an uncomprehending Evalisse, a lascivious twinkle in his eye as he relishes the stolen vulgarity (Grimaldi’s performance is so authentic, it feels like he was scooped off New Utrecht Avenue during the Eisenhower administration). He calls Jaivín “monkey child from hell” when the hungry boy tries to sneak an apple from Charlie’s tree — an amenity not stipulated in the lease.

Although he’s from Italian immigrant stock, Charlie has no sympathy for these newcomers, who must claw themselves up from nothing as he once did. His visceral disdain for the Irish tells the story of an unbroken chain, as each wave of immigrants to the United States takes the opportunity to exploit those arriving right behind them (for more on this, see Martyna Majok’s queens).

Sara Koviak plays Mirella, and Maribel Martinez plays Evalisse in the world premiere of The Hours are Feminine, written and directed by José Rivera, at INTAR Theatre.
(© Valerie Terranova)

But when Charlie’s daughter-in-law, Mirella (Sara Koviak), catches Jaivín fishing a half-eaten sandwich from the trash, she resolves to take another path by sharing her food with him and befriending the family. It helps that she speaks Spanish, a souvenir from a previous relationship with a Cuban man. She quickly becomes Evalisse’s first friend in New York.

While Rivera is best known for his forays into magical realism in plays like Marisol and References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot, the most mystical force in The Hours Are Feminine is female friendship. Koviak and Martinez convey a genuine bond that convincingly overcomes initial distrust. Martinez is cautious, stepping cat-like around the yard as she spots danger everywhere. But Koviak’s unrelenting warmth, tempered with gentle humor, melts her icy resistance.

Rivera, who also directs, is just as insightful when it comes to the men: Exuding an easy machismo, Delgado’s Fernán is unquestionably the lord of the manor when he’s with his nuclear family; but he slips into the role of serf around his landlord, calling him “Mr. Charlie” through a forced smile. Robert Montano executes similar gear shifts as Charlie’s son, the aptly named Little Anthony, who plays the hot-blooded Italian lover for Mirella yet is clearly terrified of incurring the wrath of both his wife and father. This becomes an urgent problem as Mirella and Charlie clash over the Quintanas.

Dan Grimaldi plays Charlie, and Hiram Delgado plays Fernán in the world premiere of The Hours are Feminine, written and directed by José Rivera, at INTAR Theatre.
(© Valerie Terranova)

Scenic designer Izzy Fields has created an attractively rustic ring for this emotional MMA fight, which does descend into real violence (realistically choreographed by UnkleDave’s Fight-House). We can see the material disparity between the Italians and the Puerto Ricans in the peeling paint and undressed windows of the Quintana house, barely more than a garden shed. In Lisa Renée Jordan’s thoughtfully nuanced costumes, we also see the gap between Evalisse’s pious Latin Catholicism and Mirella’s more libertarian spin on the dictates of Holy Mother Church — the result of just a generation of American life.

Lighting designer Christina Watanabe brings the Long Island summer, complete with fireflies, into this tiny theater. Sound designer David Remedios tells a particularly joyful story of cultural assimilation as we hear the I Love Lucy theme blaring from televisions in both homes, with inhabitants of all extractions laughing uproariously. All designers thrillingly collaborate to re-create the terror of Hurricane Donna — a nasty wind from the Caribbean that, for all its destructive power, makes Evalisse feel a little less homesick.

The Hours Are Feminine is a beautiful tale of the kindness and cruelty newcomers can find in the United States, and how small acts of compassion can do much to salve the thousand little wounds that come with trying to make it here.

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