What can possibly be entertaining about a beauty pageant in a women’s prison? The answer is: Everything!
Informative details about a country not so far away, emotional scenes that bring tears to your eyes, and a plot so funny you can’t help but feel joy are all of the things Another Word for Beauty has and more. Created by Jose’ Rivera , Another Word for Beauty embodies all of the darker aspects of life in the aesthetically pleasing country of Columbia.
Hidden behind gorgeous and extravagant dresses and floats, you see the truths about being human and being female through the eyes of 10 Latina women and 1 Latino man. Some scenes are difficult to watch, because these women’s tales are sad, but because they are true you won’t regret looking. Through these scenes the story becomes about more than a simple pageant. Director Steve Cosson does an extraordinary job of portraying the meanings behind every character. He has the actresses and actor tell the story and embrace their roles through song, dance, and monologue.
The costumes, light effects, choreography, and music make this play the elaborate. After viewing the full performance, the identities of the creative people responsible for these effects–Robert Wierzel and Mike Tutaj– are begging to be known. They adjust the lights to portray the different moods of specific scenes, and the special effects make you gaze in awe and wonder.
A memorable scene is when Xiomara (Helen Cespedes) sings a duet with her brother Danny (Dan Domingues). Xiomara is one of the more “privileged” prisoners who only wants to be free, but she’s mentally distant from the real world. Danny remains with his sister at all times in spirit. He’s her only friend and the one person she trusts in the world. In Xiomara’s imagination she sees a luscious green forest. In the background a forest made of light is displayed and the colors change to different shades of green.
The backdrop changes for other scenes as well and becomes a classroom, an ocean, and much more. It’s a truly genius way to create a more sensory setting. I felt surprisingly calm and refreshed during most of the performance. During the pageant scenes, of course, I was revitalized and my heart was left beating rapidly because of all the excitement.
The music is simply amazing and expresses different points in the story. The songs are entirely in Spanish, but the lyrics are spelt out in English subtitles. Luzmery’s solo (Danaya Esperanza) tells her tale of love and betrayal. Her voice is that of an angel, yet she isn’t the only talented multitalented artist. Isabelle’s (Carmen Zilles) voice is easily recognizable no matter where she is placed on the stage. It reverberates and leaves a pleasant ringing in your ears. She unfortunately does not have her own solo.
I walked into the play with the mindset that I was going to watch something dark and depressing. Shockingly, there is a surprising amount of clever humor that makes this play amusing and enjoyable. One of the many great scenes is in Act Two when the girls have an epic dance battle, bringing life to stage and the theatre.
Having seen Another Word for Beauty twice, I was able to notice unsatisfactory factors within the play. For starters, this play is not for children, nor anyone who expects the use of a broad vocabulary. The underlying themes and humor are for more mature audiences, so heed the Goodman’s 14+ warning. The amount of profanity is excessive and overused. Taking into account the circumstances of the play, it’s easy to imagine real human beings speaking in such ways, but for the sake of the performance, and my ears, my earlier statement will not be retracted.
Other than the myriad times a character said the F word, this play is one of the best if not the best play I’ve ever seen. There were no small parts. Every single person added something enriching to the story, and the lives of all the audience members.