The Capital Fringe Festival is a time for trying ballsy shows and occasionally finding surprising gems such as La Llorona. It is an intelligent and affecting drama about a woman accused of drowning her two children and the impact of the case on the woman serving as her public defender and her spouse.
The play’s name and inspiration refer to an Hispanic folk legend about a woman abandoned by her husband who then drowns her children in a fit of insane rage. She later walks the earth in a state of perpetual grief (“La Llorona” refers to a weeping or wailing woman), although she is also cast as a bogey woman used to scare disobedient children. (It’s all explained in the play and the program.)
After a scene featuring off-stage screaming and a police siren, we meet Marina Renaldo (Briana Manente) in jail, at her first meeting with her public defender Andy Walker (Teresa Catherine.) Andy “drew the short straw” in her office in more ways than one. Her client is charged with a horrific crime, she vehemently claims to be not guilty despite being arrested at her home standing over the bath tub with her two dead children, and she is a tough and defensive woman.
Andy’s husband Jude (Ben Calman) is a successful corporate lawyer, interested in starting a family. He is not pleased to find his wife preoccupied with an unpopular and demanding child murder case. He would prefer that she hand the case off to a colleague, especially since Andy is dealing with health issues.
Unfortunately for Jude, Andy is committed to her work and her client (“She’s a human being!”). She gradually builds a rapport with the suspicious Marina, especially through her kindness after Marina is attacked by her fellow inmates. (Child killers are unpopular, even in prison.) Marina was abandoned by her husband years earlier and has no other apparent family or friends.
Amanda Zeitler is working on her MFA in playwriting at Catholic University but her writing demonstrates talent and maturity far beyond her years. Her depiction of the difficulty of dealing with criminal clients, the justifications offered by criminal defense lawyers, and the impact of handling a high profile case all ring true to this former prosecutor.
More broadly, La Llorona skillfully weaves in themes from the La Llorona folk legend and provides three finely drawn characters. She writes natural and interesting dialogue so it’s not surprising that this work won a national playwriting contest, despite a late plot twist that is pushed a little too far, unrealistically stacking the deck.
by Amanda Zeitler
at Bedroom – Fort Fringe
612 L Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
Details and tickets
It is no slight to the other actors, however, to point out what a powerhouse performance Briana Manente gives as Marina. It is hard to take your eyes off of her, whether she is glowering and defensive in a jail cell or injured and lying in a hospital bed. Her final revelation of the tragic events is a scene that will haunt audiences long after they exit into the summer sunlight.
You don’t need to be a devotee of legal or prison dramas to appreciate this intelligent, emotionally involving play. Both La Llorona and Manente’s performance demand to be remembered.