Theatrical Brilliance From BROWNSVILLE BRED

If Elaine Del Valle had only written the stunning new play, Brownsville Bred, it would have assured her an important place in the world of the theatre. But as both author and solo star of this remarkable tour de force, the very lovely Miss Del Valle
has a modern masterpiece on her hands. As the title suggests, this is the story
of a young girl growing up in the dangerous and complicated world of the
Brownsville projects in 1980’s Brooklyn. Self-described as a Nuyorican, the
author grew up in Brownsville as the product of a large Hispanic family. Even
if not entirely autobiographical, clearly this is her story of the world she
knew. The way in which Del Valle, alone on the stage for an intermission-free
ninety minutes, is able to so magically recreate that world and its characters,
seems an accomplishment nothing short of miraculous. Equally astonishing is her
total memorization and command of what is essentially a 95-minute monologue
that runs the full gamut of human emotions and experience.

Prior to her sparkling arrival on stage, some very loud rap music transports us to “the ’hood,” as a brief projection scrolls down a Wikipedia entry describing Brownsville by its
nickname, “The Wasteland,” with its median family income below $18,000, many if
not most men there having been arrested, and only a third of high school
students making it to graduation. With seemingly flawless direction from Pamela
Moller Kareman, the action plays out on a ghetto-styled set (designer, Jason
Bolen) with a modest apartment at its center, and a surrounding street with
hanging laundry, trash cans, some boarded up windows, and no shortage of
graffiti. If that sounds boring, it never has the chance to be amid the
electrifying performance of the radiant star as she captures all the joys,
sorrows and angst of loving family life in a Brooklyn world often ruled by
crime, drugs and assorted other slings and arrows. But the sweet family tales
of her “mami,” “popi,” siblings and friends are so affectionate and filled with
humor that one cannot but admire her world and her journey. She tells of how
her mom was an “older woman” when she had her first child at age 21. We learn
of mom’s boyfriend, Lefty and of how, “Lefty left her.” We hear of the very musical
father Elaine adored. He played Salsero music on piano, trumpet, conga,
guitar, and flute, “…but his best instrument was his voice.” Her Papi even
played minor league baseball for a time, but became a public school custodian
after he quit saying, “There’s no future for Latinos in baseball!” Elaine also
shares her girlhood crush on Johnny Perez, the cutest boy in the school: “He
like my boyfriend. Excep’ we ain’t never really talk!”

There are so many more adventures with stories of not one, but two Aunt Luzzys, assorted neighbors like Crackhead Wanda and Crazy Miss Clark, a trip to visit family in Puerto Rico, and a poignant time of adolescent discovery. Through it all Del Valle brilliantly
embodies the different voices and varied body language of characters we meet
along the way. Punctuating the fun (and occasional sadness) of all these tales,
are the skillful transitions from scene to scene, and character to character,
that are accomplished with subtle lighting changes (designer, David Penz), perfectly
timed sound effects (designer, Matt Stine), and an eclectic abundance of brief
musical interludes featuring the likes of Los Hermanos Colon, Debbie Boone, the
“Mork & Mindy” theme, The West Street Mob, Run DMC, Marvin Gaye, Irene
Cara, Herb Alpert, Wham, and Hector Levoe.

For theatergoers in search of a real demonstration of superb acting skill, this is your moment. I recall a favorite line of dialogue when Elaine describes her warm reception when she made the trip to see her father and the family in Puerto Rico. She says, “I’s
everybody’s favorite in Puerto Rico. I’m like the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop.” My guess is Elaine Del Valle will now be everybody’s favorite in New York.

BROWNSVILLE BRED runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 31. The performance schedule is Tuesday– Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday – Saturday at 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues. Tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org.

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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One Response to Theatrical Brilliance From BROWNSVILLE BRED

  1. Jay Colon says:

    Beautifully said. She’s great! Got to Love Her. PEACE!

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