Written by Florencia Lozano
Directed by Pedro Pascal
As in any good ghost story, the little girl haunting the Jiménez family stands for something ethereal, distant and much larger. Hidden under the sink, table and bed, feeding on the food scraps from great aunt Tia Toti (Maria Cellario) and the terror of thirteen-year-old Daisy (Vanessa Aspillaga), she reminds the comfortably middle-class suburban Boston family of the Dirty War they escaped by emigrating from Argentina. For playwright Florencia Lozano, who experienced similar displacement in 1982, when underneathmybed (through October 16) takes place, the ghost also signals the end of girlhood. Unlike her eldest sister Paola (Vivia Font), a Harvard hopeful, and sexually mature middle sibling Josefina (Audrey Esparza), physically awkward and emotionally frail Daisy desperately wants not to grow up. The spectral girl in the alternately blood-stained and pristine white dress (Marina Pulido) does double duty as a symbol of adolescence and of Argentina's brutal post-Peron regime.
This added political dimension complements the play's Gothic ghost melodrama, so that when the family isn't fighting over which daughter gets preferential treatment they are forced to listen to tyrannical patriarch Esteban (Ed Trucco) bemoan America's complicity in the Argentinean conflict. Unrelenting volleys of guilt, fear and shame weigh heavily on Daisy, and Aspillaga shows it superbly with big, wild eyes and a bold smile that quickly turns to a pained grimace. Raul Abrego's Escher-esque set design, with torturously narrow staircases, prison-like concealed compartments, glass walls and a main space that narrows gently, extenuates the entrapment that the play's women rail against. Even the front door starts to stick and eventually gets knocked down.
Not that the world beyond their shrinking sphere seems much better. When a prominent local doctor and his wife (Charles Goforth and Yetta Gottesman) come for dinner one evening—despite Esteban's complaint that "the gringos in this country eat dinner in the middle of the afternoon"—the scene's Noël Coward-caliber exchanges of cutting insults suggests more widespread bougie malaise. That scene, which begins with snide comments amidst awkward silences, escalates into political provocations and culminates in a fist-fight and wine-as-blood being spilt on a family heirloom, encapsulates the jarring shifts in tone, volume and emotion that director Pedro Pascal and the excellent cast mostly pull off. Cacophonous family arguments and a marital showdown between Esteban and Lizbel (Paula Pizzi) lose some strength as they're drawn out or repeated. Nonetheless, underneathmybed's intensity rarely dips. Aspillaga especially, winning us over as a paralyzingly whiny teen, incarnates the double-bind of being trapped in a body and a country that seem increasingly foreign. Josephina's comic complaint—"Why couldn't we be more repressed and uptight like everyone else around here?"—proves prescient. Lozano, introducing us to the Jiménezes during an all-Spanish dinner argument, likens assimilation to adolescence as similar normalizing processes. The cost of normalcy, for Daisy at least, only becomes more unbearable.
(photo credit: Sandra Coudert)