Melinda Lopez‘s Mala, now onstage at CoHo Theatre, is a very difficult play for those of us at a certain age to watch. This 80-minute one-act details the life of Mala (Julana Torres,below) as she takes care of her failing 92-year-old mother.
“‘Mala’ means ‘bad.’ Not that you have done something bad, but that you are, in your core, bad,” Melinda Lopez (above) tells us. Like many caregivers, Mala feels inadequate. She feels like a failure. She longs for relief as she thinks about the different possibilities for her mother. She plays good cop-bad cop. She lives in denial as long as she is able.
It’s interesting that Melinda Lopez names the character Mala in an autobiographical play. “Mala!” the old lady screeches, followed by a string of Spanish swear words. Sometimes it’s a phone call at work, sometimes it’s the middle of the night. Do we call 911? Does she really need to go to the hospital?
A caregiver like Mala never rests. Whatever the time, a telephone call will send her racing toward God knows what. She always does it, because that’s what good daughters do. That’s what caregivers do. The play is based on Lopez’s experience as she cared for her aging parents while raising her own children. It’s called the “sandwich” generation for a reason. Many of us are familiar with it.
An utterly unsentimental journey towards the end of life, Mala explores how we live, cope and survive in the moment. Lopez’s emotional language is sharp, often humorous, ultimately exhausted, given voice by Julana Torres’s strong performance. It’s a powerful one-woman show that opens the door for conversation about our universal struggle to support those we love in dying, especially when all we’ve ever focused on is surviving.
Mala is co-produced and directed by Brian Shnipper, co-produced by Anna Nicholas. Credits go to Micah Steury, stage manager; Megan Wilkerson, scenic design; Carl Faber, lighting design; Matt Weins, sound design; Reina Solunaya, assistant director; and Laura Savage, associate scenic design.
The play runs through September 28 at CoHo Theatre.