Off Broadway Reviews
Iriondo (who is referred to as Chica in the script) begins her story when she was a self-described nerdy ten-year-old and living in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Ushuaia, she tells us, is "the southernmost place you could possibly imagine" because it is "as close as a city can get to Antarctica." She lives there with her parents and is surrounded by a large extended family, including her grandmother, whom she affectionately calls "Labuela."
In the early 1990s, Argentina is plunged into an economic crisis, but Iriondo and her parents (with a fourth family member on the way) are able to uproot their lives and move to New York City. Her new home is not the gleaming, welcoming, and carefree environment she expects to be, but she gradually gets used to the bustle and stench of the Big Apple. When her mother loses the job that enabled the family to make the move, however, daunting visa issues threaten to disrupt their lives yet again.
Still, the family is resilient, and they establish new traditions, such as annual trips to upstate New York and birthday parties with their new friends in the United States. And while they adopt and embrace American culture, Iriondo holds onto her Argentinian heritage through cumbia dance rhythms, Argentine lullabies, and customary food and drink, such as chocotorta, a cake made with chocolate and plenty of dulce de leche.
Iriondo invites the audience into this nostalgia-infused world, not only by recounting her experiences in New York City through stories and songs, but also by allowing us to sample the aforementioned chocotorta, as well as some home-baked, savory chipas, or mini-cheese bread, which her mother prepared whenever she had momentous news to share.
The production, which has been directed and designed by Feliciano Tencos-Garcia and Rebecca Satzberg with lighting and sound by Kate Parker-Lentz, evokes the homey intimacy of Iriondo's wistful account, adorned with warm draperies, well-worn folksy throw rugs, and even a residential mailbox that offers the constant and hopeful anticipation of letters from home. For ninety minutes, the venue feels less like a club but a nostalgia-imbued living room.
The problem with nostalgia, though, is that it can provide a fuzzy and overly comforting but distorted view of the past. After eating chipas, chocotorta, and enjoying a glass of wine with the congenial hostess, I feel rather churlish pointing out that I left feeling somewhat let down by not getting the full story. For instance, there are allusions to family tensions resulting in her parents' divorce, and there are suggestions of the stresses caused by being immigrants in New York. Unfortunately, these are glossed over or are subsumed within inspiring messages from Labuela. Additionally, although Iriondo presents her family members in her narrative, we do not get to really know them. We just get the rough outlines like blurry images in overdeveloped old photographs.
The songs (with music by Iriondo, Luis D'Elias, Federico Díaz, and lyrics by Iriondo), and there are many of them, have a similar problem. Iriondo has a lovely voice, and she is an ingratiating presence, but there is a nagging sense that she is holding back. As a result, the musical interludes, which integrate Latin American motifs with strains of 1990s pop music, seem to blur together. There are some notable standouts, though, especially the plaintive opening number "Vengo del Sur," the stirring "Outside the Lines," and the comical "Qué Sé Yo," which articulates what it means to be Argentinian.
The production is graced with two excellent musicians, Federico Díaz on guitars and Agustin Uriburu on cello. (Díaz provided the music direction.) The accompaniment cuts through the nostalgic haze to infuse the evening with the energizing combination of folk, salsa, rock, and pop. And that's something to write home about.