Vilma Silva in one-woman show, with Penny Metropulos directing
When Vilma Silva goes on stage to portray a woman reliving the last months of her mother’s life in the one-woman play “Mala,” there’s a palpable congruity that informs the performance, its direction, and ultimately how the audience perceives it. Both Silva and director Penny Metropulos went through the same kind of experience themselves.
The Rogue Theater Company production will play Thursdays through Sundays at 2 p.m., Oct. 7-17, outdoors at Grizzly Peak Winery, 1600 E. Nevada St., Ashland.
The play will be moved indoors if necessary, but RTC expects beautiful, sunny days typical of that time of year in the Rogue Valley.
Written by Melinda Lopez, the play chronicles the decline of her mother’s health and the journey of a daughter navigating the confusion, anger and love in the last chapter of life with her mother. “Mala” explores her struggle to meet that chapter with grace — sometimes falling short.
The playwright has performed the role herself many times.
“I wrote the play in the middle of a lot of chaos, and that’s where the play is set,” Lopez said in a recent interview. “It needs to live there. But I don’t live there anymore.
“It’s a hard job to care for your parents. No one teaches you how to do it,” she said. “You love them, you’re frustrated, you don’t know what’s right. You have to forgive yourself. You have to love the imperfect person that you were. That’s how we grow; that’s how we learn.”
Silva and Metropulos have worked together many times, often in Oregon Shakespeare Festival productions, with 25 and 20 seasons at OSF, respectively.
Rogue Theater Company Artistic Director Jessica Sage selected the play with Silva in mind. And because of her long friendship and professional relationship with Silva, Metropulos was the ideal choice for director.
Directing a one-person play is different from directing a play with a cast of many. It’s more of a partnership.
“I can’t imagine doing it without knowing the person,” Metropulos said.
She said she feels like her job is to serve the actor, offering suggestions, answering questions and offering guidance when needed.
“I’ve read a lot of one-person plays,” Metropulos said. “Not many have the emotional variety, the richness of language and the depth of spirit that ‘Mala’ does.”
The play’s comedic tone helps deal with some complex and often painful themes.
“Mala” opened in 2016 in Boston to glowing reviews. “Piercingly honest and exquisitely moving,” said the Boston Globe. “A profound experience … brings to life the darkness and fragility of the human spirit,” said the EDGE Media Network.
When Silva read the play, she found relevance with her own life.
“I moved my own mother up here from San Francisco for the last two years of her life,” Silva said. “Mom became part of my life here. We walked around town together. And she loved to go to In-N-Out for a burger.”
And not long after she cared for and lost her mother, she lost her father as well.
“When I was going through it with mom, Penny showed up twice at the emergency room. Because she went through it too, with her mom.”
Playwright Lopez is Cuban, Silva is Nicaraguan.
“They are different cultures, but the experiences are similar,” Silva said. “So many of our experiences resonate, many that are outside the main story line.”
She says reading the play made her realize she wasn’t alone. She was reminded that in caring for a dying parent there are moments of peace and love, and that you can come out of it stronger.
When she talked to the playwright about it, Lopez told Silva, “That’s why I wrote it.”
It isn’t the first one-person play for Metropulos.
She directed “An Iliad” at Portland Center Stage in 2010 in its first production outside New York. It’s an adaptation of Homer’s epic poem, scaling the conflict of the Trojan War down to an intimate solo show illuminating both the heroism and the horror of warfare.
Silva was familiar with the playwright’s work before taking on “Mala.” She performed in Lopez’s “Sonia Flew” at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater in 2006 and 2007. It’s a story about a Cuban immigrant raising two children with her Jewish husband in Minneapolis when war intrudes on her son’s life, bringing back memories of Operation Peter Pan, a political maneuver that separated her and thousands of other Cuban children from their parents.
“Mala” is a meditation on the complexity of what one takes from and gives to parents. Silva found some kernels of her own truth in the play, especially with regard to the relationship with her mom at the end.
“I enjoyed my mom not being responsible for me anymore,” Silva said. “It allowed us to enjoy each other’s company.”
Tickets are priced at $25 for the patron level, with other support levels offered for added donations. Tickets are discounted for Oct. 7, preview night. For tickets and more information, go to roguetheatercompany.com.
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.