'The Highest Heaven' Is A Lyrical Piece Of Work.
By Margaret Regan
MEMO FROM A mom to playwright José Cruz González: There's something you should know about us moms. We don't accidentally lose our kids in crowded train stations. In a dangerous mob, we don't let our kids out of our sight. We hold onto them, and, believe me, our grips are tight.
The mom in your play, The Highest Heaven, now on stage in a Childsplay production at Tucson Center for the Performing Arts, inexplicably loses her child in just such a situation. You've established her as a good mother, yet you never offer any explanation for her carelessness in misplacing her son. This unfortunate lapse undermines your play's credibility. That's too bad, because Heaven is a lyrical piece of work, embroidered with silky metaphors about butterflies and sometimes even graced by shining butterflies on stage.
It's the Depression, and Uncle Sam has decided to rid himself of his braceros, Mexican workers who were legally working the fields of the Southwest. Kika, luminously played by Alejandra Garcia, and her 12-year-old son Huracán (Steven Peña, an adult eminently believable as a boy) get kicked out of California. At a chaotic train station in Mexico, Kika sits Huracán down and tells him not to budge until she returns. She never does.
The play turns out to be about how young Huracán finds the resources within himself to make a go of life, motherless though he's become. He steals food from a Day of the Dead shrine, earning the endless enmity of the evil Doña Elena (Debra K. Stevens). But he survives by befriending a gruff black man, an exiled gringo who lives in an Indian butterfly sanctuary. El Negro (the fine Ellen Benton) helps the boy understand that like the caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, he'll one day become a man, able to take care of himself.
As always in Childsplay productions, the acting is super--a fifth performer, Jon Gentry, ably plays a series of minor roles. The set is a dream, made simply of wooden pallets and ladders. Directed by David Saar, the production lags a bit in the middle; it's a mistake to run an 80-minute play for kids with no intermission. Nevertheless, the fine stagecraft and coming-of-age lessons make The Highest Heaven a worthy outing for kids. Younger children might need some reassurance about their own mothers' iron grips. Not recommended for children under 7.subscribers. For information, call 622-2823.
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