As the COVID pandemic continues into the current Milwaukee theatre season, the more established local companies have been putting some really compelling stuff onto the internet. It may not be live performance, but the intimate, small-cast productions have been host to some remarkably compelling drama. The latest show to premiere with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre online is Isaac Gómez’s The Way She Spoke. Michelle Lopez-Rios plays an actress reading a script for a writer friend of hers. Director Lisa Portes has brought together subtly minimalist elements to amplify Rios’ performance in a one-actor one-act that progresses through an uninterrupted 83 minutes.
As the actress sits-down, she’s reading the script for the first time. Lopez-Rios plays an actress engaging with a script that recalls certain memories for her. The memories aren’t hers, though. The narrative tells the story of a town in Mexico where numerous women have been disappearing. Thousands of women have vanished from Mexico. Horrific murders have been targeting women in the area. The memories are those of the narrator who is the playwright who wrote the script that the character is reading. As this begins to become apparent, she’s learning things about a man she’s known for years.
The drama unfolds at a table against a black brick that feels very much like the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre that has played host to so many memorable MCT productions over the years. As Lopez-Rios reads the script, photo and video are projected against the brick wall. The projections are faded imagery in the background as the narrator breathes through an actress being portrayed by Lopez-Rios. Her voice echoes off of the walls. She’s trying to understand the tragedy of so much death and human trafficking. The darker side of humanity is explored with powerful resonance through a single script and a single performer, but the narrative valiantly reaches for an alchemy that reaches for the shadows of so many missing women.
The drama of the narrative casts light from the darkness of human horror to those courageous enough to explore it to the playwright to the actress to actress who is playing her and out into the video that’s captured it all. As remarkably vivid as the drama is, it’s very, very difficult to connect with the reality of it. It all feels like such dark fiction, but it’s weaving a story that is an appalling reality for so many people living in the shadow of the good fortune that so much of the rest of the population of the world has been gifted with. It’s absolutely essential that stories like Gómez’s continue to be told. It’s all too easy to forget about those occupying the edges of popular perception. There’s darkness in the periphery, but it needs to be seen if we are to come together as a compassionate species. This drama needs to be seen if we want to be something better than we are as a society.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s production of The Way She Spoke is on-demand until April 11th, 2021. More information about MCT, its virtually reimagined 20/21 season, how to purchase tickets, and how to donate can be found at www.milwaukeechambertheatre.org.