WATERBURY — Pa’lante Theater Company and Seven Angels Theater are set to host the premiere of “Calling Puerto Rico: For the Island and to Hope” on Friday.
The play, written by Juan Ramirez Jr., deals with the devastation caused by Hurricane María in Puerto Rico and breaks new ground for the Latino theater industry in Connecticut.
This is the first play produced by Pa’lante Theater Company, Connecticut’s first and only Afro-Latinx black box theater company.
"Theatre and arts need to be reflective of the community in which it lives," said Pa’Lante founder Rafael Feliciano-Roman. “Seven Angels is allowing us the opportunity to have our stories told by those who are living it.”
“Calling Puerto Rico” also marks Feliciano-Roman’s directorial debut. He said he has Cuban and Puerto Rican roots and gravitated to the script because of the way it deals with the five-year anniversary of Hurricane María and the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona.
“A big wave of the latest migration wave of Boricuas came right after María, so wherever you are in the state, you saw an influx of all these Puerto Ricans. And so, as our first show, we wanted to honor that,” he said.
He added that a portion of proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to CT Helps Puerto Rico, a fund started by a coalition of the state’s many Puerto Rican festivals to help the island recover from hurricanes.
“Calling Puerto Rico” runs for about an hour and a half and follows Joel, played by Rabel Bueno, as he tries to communicate with the other four characters through an amateur radio setup. Joel is a Nuyorican from the Bronx who struggles with agoraphobia, a family curse, and other mental health issues. When the play opens, Joel has not left his apartment in a while, works remotely and spends his spare time with amateur radio.
Joel hears about Hurricane Maria from Debra, an astronaut at the International Space Station through the amateur radio frequencies. He reaches out to his estranged grandfather in Puerto Rico to warn him of the incoming storm through the radio.
As the plot advances, the hurricane tests the strained relationships between Joel and the other characters. The only person he speaks to in person is his self-proclaimed “nosy landlady,” Melosa, played by Fior Rodriguez.
The relationship between Joel and Melosa is the heartbeat of the play, as both characters rely on each other, but find it difficult to communicate. The easy chemistry between the actors pushes the plot forward as the tenant-landlord relationship evolves in complicated ways. At one point, Joel turns to Melosa in frustration and asks “how can we connect with each other if all we have are the senses?”
Despite a minimal set consistent with a black box theater company, the sound design by Angelica Huertas functions as an unofficial sixth character. Radio static, coquí song and raindrops all transport the audience through the play’s emotional landscape.
Betzabeth Gonzalez from Bridgeport plays Debra. She gravitated towards the play because of the way it tells a human, personal story.
“You rarely get to see a play filled with Latiné issues, but that isn’t the usual Latiné trauma,” she said. “Plus, I get to be an astronaut.”
Similarly, playwright Juan Ramirez said he supports the production of his play and is set to appear in a Q&A after shows on Feb. 25 and 26.
“The only way to present this play is with love,” he said. “Pa'lante Theater Company acts on this same mission, because 'Pa'lante' means to go forward and that's exactly where our stories need to go.”
Calling Puerto Rico will run for two weekends, Feb. 17-26, at Seven Angels, 1 Plank Road in Waterbury. Performances are Fridays at 2 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale now at taino-nation.org/palantetheater or SevenAngelsTheatre.org or by calling the Seven Angels box office at 203-757-4676. All seats are $20 plus fees. Tickets will also be available at the door.
Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re, To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.