By Kimberly Rau
The world premiere of Orlando Hernández’s “La Broad’ (Broad Street)” opened at Trinity Rep, and it’s a beautiful reflection on the multicultural voices that helped shape the Rhode Island we know today.
Set in Providence on Broad Street and inspired by Marta Martinez’s “Latino History of Rhode Island: Nuestras Raíces,” Hernández’s story begins in the early 1990s. Journalism student Ana bumps into Doña Rosa on Broad Street, where Doña Rosa is trying unsuccessfully to break into the market formerly owned by her family. Ana winds up coming home with her, meeting her daughter, Lucrecia, and ultimately profiling the older woman for a college project.
What unfolds is a tale of a woman who helped build the Hispanic community in Providence. Hernández is clear that his characters and situations are not meant to exactly mirror reality. Some are composites, some are based on real people, some are made up entirely. But the heart of the story is that real, everyday people, some without much to call their own, came together to build community as they moved to Rhode Island from all over. Doña Rosa’s market serves as a gathering place for everything from political campaigns to civil protest planning, as well as a landing spot for newly arrived immigrants who need some time to get on their feet.
Ana, a Texas transplant of Mexican descent, is enthralled with Doña Rosa’s stories. She herself is struggling to find her place in college. Her roommate Susan, a kind but sheltered girl from Massachusetts, doesn’t understand the barriers Ana is facing, calling her frustration “intense” and reminding Ana that she doesn’t know anyone else who speaks Spanish. At one point, Ana’s journalism professor minimizes her piece on Doña Rosa, something Ana felt wouldn’t have happened if her subject were white. But like the powerful woman she wrote about, Ana perseveres.
Just as Ana is feeling like she has things on the right track, tragedy strikes, leaving her devastated. But it’s Doña Rosa who reminds her that she will always have family to help her, both in Texas and on Broad Street. And Doña Rosa, who has been struggling with her husband’s death, realizes that speaking about her history has given her some sense of peace and closure.
Director Tatyana-Marie Carlo has taken Hernández’s world and given it the vibrant, meaningful treatment it deserves. A stellar ensemble cast brings life to his complex, sympathetic characters.
The actors playing the two main characters are both making their Trinity debuts with “La Broa’,” and hopefully, we’ll see them in many more things over the seasons. Rosalyn Tavarez is a brilliant Ana, and Alina Alcántara is a wonderful Doña Rosa. Doña Rosa’s character is based on the real-life Josefina “Doña Fefa” Rosario, and Rosario’s actual daughter was reportedly present on opening night. Portraying someone for their family is a big ask of any actor, and Alcántara is perfect, as is Marina Tejada, who plays Lucrecia.
The whole story is played out on a simple but warm set designed by Patrick Lynch, and set to music that envelops you from the opening to final bows. Though a good portion of the script is in Spanish, it’s not hard to follow even if you don’t speak the language. The messages of love, community and family, both natural and chosen, come through like a beacon. “La Broa’” is a gift to anyone who experiences it, no matter their background. Catch it before it closes.
“La Broa’ (Broad Street)” runs through Feb. 8 at the Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at trinityrep.com or by calling 401.351.4242.