Good insight into teenage challenges

“I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

(L to R) Karen Rodriguez (Julia) and Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller (Olga) at Steppenwolf. (photo by Michael Brosilow)
(L to R) Karen Rodriguez (Julia) and Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller (Olga) at Steppenwolf. (photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

Julia may or may not be the perfect Mexican daughter but Karen Rodriguez may be the perfect person to play her. Rodriguez commanded the Steppenwolf stage from the moment the lights came up and did not let go for the next 90 minutes.

Directed by Sandra Marquez, “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,”  is based on a bestselling book by Erika L. Sanchez. It is adapted for Steppenwolf by Isaac Gomez who knocks it out of the park again. His “La Ruta” enjoyed a successful premiere there in 2018.

In this production, Julia is a teenaged aspiring writer struggling to come to terms with the sudden death of her only sister, Olga (Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller), roughly five years older.

Julia realizes she did not really know her sister and sets out to understand Olga better, including circumstances simultaneously occurring around the time of her death. In doing so she uncovers what might be construed as some of Olga’s “imperfections.”

This sudden emotional turmoil only serves to amplify the stresses of school, family and her growing sexual awakening.

(L to R) Leslie Sophia Perez (Lorena) and Karen Rodriguez (Julia) at Steppenwolf. (Michael Brosilow photo)
(L to R) Leslie Sophia Perez (Lorena) and Karen Rodriguez (Julia) at Steppenwolf. (Michael Brosilow photo)

Since Olga’s death, Julia’s relationship with her mother, “Ama” (Charin Alvarez), has seemingly deteriorated. Her father, “Apa” (Eddie Martinez), has only retreated further by emotionally isolating himself from his family.

Julia meets her “love interest,” Connor (Harrison Weger), in a bookstore which is a perfect fit for her. But their social dissimilarities add further pressures to her already over-taxed emotions.

However, she does find some relief in the person of Mr. Ingman (Peter Moore), her sympathetic and encouraging high school English teacher.

This well written and superbly performed play does indeed have a serious message about life, relationships, sacrifice and what it means to be a mature adult facing real world realities.

But writers Sanchez and Gomez do a wonderful job of tempering Julia’s angst with a good deal of snarky humor as she breaks the fourth wall and comments to the audience on the actions of people around her and some of the other, seemingly absurd, aspects of life in general.

Karen Rodriguez (Julia) and the cast of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter at Steppenwolf. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Karen Rodriguez (Julia) and the cast of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter at Steppenwolf. (Michael Brosilow photo)

The overall tone is further lightened by Lorena (Leslie Sophia Perez), Julia’s more lighthearted and apparently more sexually informed best friend, as well as their compatriot, Juanga (Robert Quintanilla), whose own carefree persona is masking his own challenges.

Understanding that there is need for a kind of “breather” the creators interject a humorous interlude about midway in the form of Julia’s Quinceanera. For the uninformed, this is a kind of coming-out or sweet-sixteen party for fifteen year-old girls. The apparent inside humor surrounding a number of the archaic rituals was not lost on this substantially Latinx press audience.

“… Perfect Mexican Daughter” covers a good deal of social commentary including life, death, love, sex, and immigration, without being heavy handed. It fulfills its objective to investigate the human condition in general while bringing to light specific challenges that many in Chicago’s Mexican community and beyond have to navigate every day.

This is billed as a “Steppenwolf for Young Adults” production which I hope does not limit audiences who might think this is only for young people. That being said this might be perfect to share with your favorite teen, or perhaps encourage some teenagers or twenty-somethings in your life to enjoy as a theater outing with their friends. Warning, there is sexually explicit and frank language which could be awkward for some, but probably not any worse than the average cable TV show or movie today.

DETAILS: “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” is at the Steppenwolf Theatre (Upstairs), 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago through April 5, 2020. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and olther information call (312)335-1650 or visit Steppenwolf.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

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