David Dodd 2:33 a.m., May 19
For the last eight years, Olivia's Cuban mother, Beatriz, has been denied visitation rights. Olivia has lived with her father, a Jewish ex-Hippie who met Beatriz at Woodstock (the play begins in 1986). Programmed to deny her mother's ethnicity, Olivia defines herself as "white."
Both Aaron, the father, and Beatriz have new love interests. What emerges is a custody battle over who wants to care for their 16-year-old daughter. A compulsive writer, Olivia has no refuge, at home or at school, where a recent taunting prompted her to download a fist-full of uppers.
She's never been beyond the suburbs of Philadelphia. A picture in National Geographic of the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone, Wyoming, beckons as a golden sanctuary. When Beatriz semi-kidnaps her, they drive west for a "brief spontaneous vacation." On the way they discover things they never knew about each other and Olivia watches her old, patchwork identity dissolve.
Quiara Alegria Hudes' 26 Miles becomes the theatrical equivalent of a road movie. As freeway signs whiz past, personal revelations arise. Hudes has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize (book for the musical In the Heights and the drama Elliot: A Soldier's Fugue). In 26 Miles, she attempts a tricky blend of sobering themes - cultural conflicts, parental abandonment, repressed resentments - with playful comedy.
Mo'olelo Performing Arts' opening night had yet to find the right mix between the two. The cast performed in contrasting styles: the first third of the 90 minute piece was overplayed, almost cartoon-like, for laughs; then the style changed (or, more likely, the cast settled), and emotions came more from within.
Young Hannah Rose Kornfeld, consistent throughout, did a fine turn as Olivia, desperate to believe and slammed by forces she dimly understands. Cassie Benavidez, however, often forced Beatriz's eccentricities with shrill deliveries and over-sized gestures. Were Benavidez to push less, early on in particular, and let the audience come to her, many problems would disappear. Jacob Bruce (Aaron) and Raul Cardona (Manuel) do what they can with the fathers, whom the playwright doesn't care much for.
The design work was ready to open. Tables, chairs, and steps moved fluidly around the stage, reconfiguring for the 26 scenes. They also served as screens for Marila Maschion's video projections: roads narrowing through the rear window, a convenience store, even rain and snow -- and the Hayden Valley as peaceful as can be.