Melinda Lopez In Mala
At The Huntington
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
Watching the Huntington Theatre’s production of Mala, written and performed by Melinda Lopez, was a very emotionally stirring experience. The one actor play about Ms Lopez’s experiences dealing with the failing health and impending death of her 92 year old mother is an honest depiction of what many of us have, or will have to face with an aging parent. It is also a stark reminder of what awaits us as we age. It is not a pretty picture, and fortunately, this play does not romanticize dying. If this sounds pretty bleak it is, but the play is not.
Oh, it is tough stuff to have to think about, and as Ms Lopez points out so well throughout the play, we don’t pick up great wisdom from the dying. They are usually very angry and the caregivers are exhausted. The endless calls to 911, the verbal nastiness, the hard decisions, and feelings of guilt are all real and put in front of us. The play also has much humor in it. I wouldn’t call it gallows humor, but rather the laughter people break into at times when it seems all has gone wrong and helplessness has set in. You know, it is okay to laugh when bad things are happening. We are reminded of that while watching Mala.
Melinda Lopez is simply wonderful. Her work is wonderful. Her acting is wonderful.
The events in the play took place during the terrible Boston winter of 2015, the year of Snowmageddon. As her mother began to deteriorate physically and mentally Ms Lopez kept notes in an App on her iPhone. She did not do this with the thought of writing a play, but rather as a way to let off steam. When she later read the notes she was inspired to write this story. It is so good she did.
Mala is not Ms Lopez’s mother’s name, rather it is a Spanish word that means a person is bad. Not just bad but bad deep down in her soul. Her mother would shout that at her when she was upset. It is not uncommon for an ailing parent to lash out at a son or daughter when they are nearing the end. It is very unpleasant and hurtful, but understandable when you think about how helpless and hopeless we become at that stage in our existence. Never the less, it is awful to deal with.
Along the way Ms Lopez also touches on her father’s dying as well as sharing brief stories of other’s who have gone through similar experiences. As she moves about the stage relating her story I felt as if she was talking directly to me, and I am sure the other audience members felt the same way. Her honesty and straightforwardness come through clearly while never turning to self pity. The anger, the guilt, the second guessing are all brought out.
Near the end of the performance Ms Lopez talks about having her mother put under Hospice care. This touched me as it is a hard reality to face when you know the person you love is not going to get better. There is now a time frame. Of course, as Melinda Lopez points out, we have all started dying, but when you can begin to measure the time that is left it becomes very different.
In one very funny part of the play Ms Lopez talks about one of the times her nerves were frazzled from dealing with her mother. She started thinking about how she heard that Eskimos, or was it Inuits?, would set their elderly parents adrift on an iceberg to be rid of them. It is quite humorous as she tells it, but it also is a reminder of the terrible guilt a person can feel as the thought of wanting the suffering to end gets tied into the wish to see your parent die. Those thoughts are so painful.
I hope I haven’t painted too bleak a picture of this wonderful performance. You will not be sitting in the theater crying. In fact, you will spend quite a bit of time laughing. But, you will leave the theater thinking about what it means to get old and what lies ahead for many of us. It is something we should be as honest about as Melinda Lopez is.
It is so often I read about how courageously a person has faced illness and death, and we like to think of it happening that way. The reality is different. I know that as I was leaving the theater I was thinking of some of the words Ms Lopez spoke. She spoke of how dying does not make us wise. You don’t learn from the dying. They are angry, they can be mean. And most importantly “Nobody teaches you how to do the big stuff.”
Do not be afraid to see this play. Melinda Lopez is simply wonderful. Her work is wonderful. Her acting is wonderful. Her honesty and openness about this subject is welcomed and you will appreciate it. Mala touched me deeply. It stirred my emotions and brought back difficult memories, but I am so glad I got to experience this fine work. While it is true nobody teaches you the big stuff, it is nice to know we are not alone in going though such events. Thank you Melinda Lopez for sharing experiences.
Extended through February 4
The Huntington Theatre Company
At The Calderwood Pavillon
Boston’s South End