In the opening moments of Tanya Saracho's Enfrascada—having its premiere as part of Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks 2011 festival, and running through June 11—we get a glimpse of idyllic, even utopian cross-class friendship, as Alicia (Flora Diaz), Carolina (Anna Lamadrid) and Yesina (Jessica Pimentel) sit down to enjoy an outdoor concert in rural Wisconsin. Saracho's funny and effective expository scene has the Chicagoan best friends articulating their upper-, middle- and working-class cultural values in jokes about Justin Bieber, footwear and the price of bottled water. But when Alicia gets up to call her fiancé Diego, the trios' stable positions begin to falter.
Alicia—the most culturally "white" of the three leads—moves out after discovering that her currently unemployed partner of nine years has been having an affair, and that the other woman has actually moved into their apartment (for which Alicia pays). She crashes with her quirky, quote-happy academic cousin Lulu (Christina Pumariega) and, caving to Carolina and Yesina's pleas, consults with a Señora who provides her with the ingredients for a spell to send the home-wrecker packing and get Diego back. This formula involves a jar full of honey and cinnamon, and Steven C. Kemp's set design of shelf-fulls of jars foreshadows that there will be many more, as Alicia becomes increasingly desperate for more drastic magic to set everything right.
Like an Almodovar film, Enfrascada is rooted in emotional realism while allowing for moments of magic, superstition and haunting. Visits to the three psychic-clairvoyant-sorcerer women (all played superbly by Annie Henk) never approach mockery or even total disbelief, while maintaining an air of cautious skepticism that slowly dissolves. When the final Señora warns of the extreme nature of the work Alicia has demanded, the air of danger and gloom becomes palpable.
Along this journey from harmless, mostly cathartic spells to black magic and voodoo, the relationships between the four main characters—with Lulu now brought into the fold—never cease to develop. Saracho and director Jerry Ruiz do a terrific job balancing the group comedy—which veers ever more towards slapstick during late stakeout and cemetery visit scenes without ever becoming unbelievable—with Alicia's ongoing decent into vengeful sorcery. The cast is unanimously excellent, whether constantly hat-switching—as is the case for Henk and Pumariega—or giving nuance and revealing new layers familiar melodrama types like the upper-middle-class housewife (Carolina), or the hedonistic young professional (Yesina). The title, "Enfrascada," has a double meaning as both "bottled" (as in a jar) and "engrossed," as Alicia becomes with her superstitious pursuits. It also describes the experience of seeing this very funny, well executed and sharp play.
Enfrascada continues at HERE Arts Center through Saturday night. Check back here the next two Tuesdays for reviews of the other shows—Our Lot (June 12-18) and Civilization (all you can eat) (June 19-25)—in Clubbed Thumb's Summerworks 2011 festival of new plays.