Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
David Mendizábal directs this compelling world premiere for the People's Light in Malvern. In Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, "the mushroom capital of the world," combat veteran Tyler (Todd Lawson) has recently taken charge of his family's mushroom farm. Tyler knows almost nothing about the business and must rely on help from former manager turned business owner Ignacio (Michael G. Martinez) and the packers and pickers like Lety (Laura Crotte), who has been picking mushrooms for almost twenty years.
Lety's daughter Edit (Kenia Munguia) is working her way through nursing school, determined not to get stuck working at the mushroom farm like her mother. Like most of the employees on the mushroom farm and many Kennett Square residents, Ignacio, Lety, and Edit immigrated to the United States from Mexico without official documentation. This means that–despite their long history with the farm, their success, and their status in the community–none of them can ever feel completely safe in Kennett Square.
Under Mendizábal's thoughtful direction, the stellar ensemble brings Davis' vision to life with skillfully nuanced performances and genuine passion. The audience can feel the pain the characters experience as they attempt to navigate a world that simultaneously depends on and threatens to destroy them. Munguia achieves a perfect blend of passion and practicality as Edit. The connection between Munguia and Crotte is as achingly beautiful as any mother-daughter bond. Crotte gives a masterful performance, conveying complex emotional responses with a single raise of her eyebrows. There is a beautiful sincerity in Michael G. Martinez's depiction of earnest and industrious Ignacio. Angel Sigala brings bitter authenticity to his role as the struggling Epifanio. Maribel Martinez successfully tempers Rain's tangible enthusiasm with a dose of worldly wisdom. Todd Lawson plays Tyler with an understated exhaustion that feels just right. Rain's backstory and her relationship with Tyler become overwrought and distracting in the second act, but Maribel Martinez and Todd Lawson do their best with the material.
There are opportunities for improvement in the second act, which is not as tightly edited or as potent as the first. Davis attempts to take on too many issues and the focus drifts away from Chester County's Latin American community. Some of the dialogue feels awkward, and the pace slows down quite a bit. I found myself wondering if future productions of Mushroom–and I imagine there will be many iterations of this important and gripping drama–might be better off simply stopping at the end of act one.
Cha See's lighting designs are captivating, shifting the mood from mysterious to tense to placid in an instant. The original compositions and sound design by David R. Molina are also spellbinding. Molina surrounds the audience with voices and tones to create a uniquely intense experience. Rodrigo Muñoz's modern costume designs are spot on. The set design by Efren Delgadillo Jr. is interesting, but ultimately unsuccessful. It is frequently difficult to understand where the action is supposed to be taking place, and the uneven surface of the stage is distracting.
Mushroom is performed in both English and Spanish. Every performance includes English supertitles for the parts of the play in Spanish, and Spanish supertitles for the parts of the play in English. It is just one of the ways Davis cultivates an authentic experience that everyone can connect with.
That connection is the heart of this powerful world premiere. Mushroom tells the story of one small Mexican community in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in a way that is relatable to anyone who lives or eats in the United States. It is as uncanny and magical as mushrooms themselves. It is also why Mushroom is a must see for anyone who loves theater or wants to better understand their own community.
Mushroom runs through Sunday, October 16, 2022, at People's Light, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets and information, visit peopleslight.org or call the box office at 610-644-3500.