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‘Mala’ takes us on the heartfelt journey of losing a loved one

Journal Correspondent

Playwright/actress Melinda Lopez in “Mala” at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion through Feb. 4. Photo by Paul Marcotta

JANUARY 25, 2018 – Melinda Lopez recently returned on stage to her two-culture family — her Cuban roots and her husband’s Jewish traditions.

The Bedford veteran actress-writer and playwright-in-residence at the Huntington Theatre Company tapped that combination in her vivid, award-winning play “Sonia Flew.” Now she is reprising her 2016 inspired effort — a one-actress play ‘’Mala” at ArtsEmerson’s Paramount Center — as a presentation by the Huntington company at the Calderwood Pavilion.

Once again, she is poetically and affectionately bringing together the experiences of her own family and her husband’s: caregiving for her dying mother and respect for her husband’s observance at the passing of his parents.

“Mala” wisely mixes humor (detail about four earlier boyfriends) with candor. The story details the difficulties of convincing her adamantly strong-willed mother Frances to go to the Mass General emergency room when necessary.

Make no mistake. Lopez is not depicting the title character as an all-sweet, all-knowing daughter. Although she becomes the attentive good cop to her rarely visiting scientist sister bad cop, she does have moments of high tension and rancor with Frances. Still, ultimately the good cop grows closer to her terminally ill mother during long stretches together, sharing clementines and Spanish telenovelas. Those stretches ‒ during the harsh winter of 2015 ‒ are beautifully enhanced by Kristine Holmes’ white-dominated scenic design, Scott Pinkney’s nuanced lighting, and Arshan Gailus’s evocative sound design.

Lopez also looks at her mother’s migration from Cuba and her strong connection with her native culture, including the remembrance of a Cuban lullaby. By contrast, there is also the loving recall of mother-in-law Bobbie ‒ who would note that 1492 was the year Jews were banished from Spain and that there were Jews on Columbus’s famous expedition.

Through Mala’s recollections and observations, Lopez admits that nothing fully prepares anybody for dealing with the formidable responsibilities of caring for a dying parent, challenges that unite all people no matter what their cultural and religious backgrounds may be.  Even as she remarks that “Death doesn’t make one wise,” she warmly advises fellow caregivers and all human beings alike: “You are capable of more than you thought possible.”

“Mala” at the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., through Feb. 4. For ticket information, call 617-266-0800 or visit huntingtontheatre.org.

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