Florencia Lozano's passionate and bold play is given a stylish production at the Rattlestick Theater.
Structured as a memory play, underneathmybed begins and ends with Daisy (Vanessa Aspillaga), who conjures back in her mind events from March 1982, when she was 13 years old and living with her family in Newton, Massachusetts. Her father Esteban (Ed Trucco) frequently launches into spirited tirades regarding the political situation of the family's native Argentina, and the thousands of people who had been "disappeared" by the military government. His words strike terror in young Daisy's heart, and her imagination conjures up a girl in a stained slip (Marina Pulido), who embodies her fears.
The play is performed in a mixture of Spanish and English, and audience members who don't speak both languages may find themselves at a disadvantage. For the most part, the emotional tenor of what's being said is still put across and it's not absolutely necessary to understand every word. Additionally, the playwright often has one character speaking in Spanish with another answering in English.
What complicates matters is that at times, multiple and overlapping conversations are being carried on simultaneously in a mix of the two languages. This makes for a rather exciting aural portrait of the family's chaotic home environment, but it also makes it hard to follow everything that's going on.
The production incorporates several Brechtian or magical realist techniques to heighten the theatricality of the play, and which the performers handle with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed middle sister Josefina (Audrey Esparza) literally unplugging the moon (displayed on a TV monitor) which she complains is ruining her sleep, and the introduction of a flowing tablecloth dress that provides a surreal backdrop for a crucial second act dinner scene. Pascal has also drawn from horror movie conventions for several key moments, aided by the eerie lighting from designer Nicole Pearce and the instrumental music selections from sound designer Janie Bullard.
The major disappointment in the production is Aspillaga's performance, which relies too much on a forced, high-pitched "kid" voice to indicate the adult actress' change to portraying younger. However, she shines in a hilariously over-the-top scene in which Daisy launches into an excerpt from Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart -- playing both Meg and Lenny -- as a means of distracting from a full-out fight that's broken out at the dinner table.
The production's finest performance is given by Esparza, who packs so much emotion and subtext into her line readings that Josefina often seems the most fully realized character in the play. Nice work is also done by Maria Cellario who brings an appropriately enigmatic quality to Tia Toti, and Paula Pizzi who has a manic edge to her portrayal of Lizbel, the mother of Daisy, Josefina, and eldest daughter Paola (Vivia Font).
Lozano laces her script with humor to balance out some of the more disturbing images and themes that she also traffics in. But the concluding monologue is not as satisfying as one might hope, and doesn't even verbally address a critical change that Daisy undergoes towards the end of the second act, which practically cries out for further elucidation.