Congratulations to Alejandro de la Costa for his nomination for "Best Scenic Design" non-equity for the 2007 Column Awards
Dallas, Summer 1942:
Two seemingly ordinary women, Willa Dee and her cousin Emily await the mail. National Geographic is doing a pictorial about American enlisted men training in the Bahamas, and they've gotten word that their husbands are featured in the photos. The arrival of the magazine and the viewing of the photographs opens up a Pandora's tinder box of memories, revelations and family secrets. As they reminisce, a mystery begins to unfold about a fateful evening. Willa Dee and Emily each possess different information about the events of what actually transpired. The arrival of family friend Euel, who holds the key to the mystery sets ablaze their emotions which forever alters the course of each of their lives. Touching, bitingly funny, and ultimately tragic, this play will move you and at the same time comfort you as you discover how each life, regardless of how mundane, is special.
This play is inspired by an obituary published in the Dallas Morning News in March, 2005 and the June, 1942 National Geographic Magazine pictorial article of American servicemen training in the Carribbean.
An important note about the play:
Please be aware that even though this play is set in 1942, and people mistakenly perceive this as a more "innocent" era, this play explores a wide variety of themes and subjects, some of which are adult in nature. Therefore, we recommend that no children be allowed in the theatre, and teens must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. If this play were a film it would receive a strong "R" rating for language, and sexual situations. There is one brief sexually explicit scene.
"...a clear and unerring reminder of how superior theatre art not only entertains an audience but invites reflection and inspires introspection. . .The audience members find themselves immediately and intimately drawn into sharing the joys and sorrows of the female protagonist. Her path of discovery leading to a startling, life-changing revelation is elevated from maudlin to universal level by masterful playwriting, realistic, crisp direction and sensitive, believable acting."
-Alexandra Bonifield, Independent Arts Writer
"It’s been said that everyone is the star of the story of his own life, and Mark-Brian Sonna’s new play 'A Moment in the Life of Willa Dee Arvis' sets out to prove that. Inspired by an actual obituary, Sonna constructed a story about the key event 60 years past that forever altered the trajectory of a woman’s life...if “Willa Dee Arvis” seems a bit familiar, it is intentionally so. The audience figures out the Deep, Dark Secret well before the characters do, which adds a tragic layer to Willa and Emily’s ignorance. You feel for them...they are not villains, but victims of social conventions.... the story succeeds in being genuinely affecting..... The interaction between Emily and Willa feels lived-in and authentic, and when the truth of their husbands’ lives begins to take root, their pain spreads throughout the audience....Wood’s hysteria...tugs at emotional chords. Spaniel delivers a dignified, fragile performance, while Bunn....easily becomes the woman you love to hate...Sonna, who also directed and plays a small part, conveys a strong sense for the period..."
Arnold Wayne Jones, Dallas Voice
"...One nice thing about '...A Moment in the Life' is the way Mr. Sonna arranges the flash-backs to scenes from the past that the various characters have been hiding from one another. They flow smoothly in and out of the present action. Also, Mr. Sonna as director has helped his actors give the emotional climax of the play a suprisingly heavy weight of agony...Caryn Spaniel...eases into a very believable Willa Dee....Designer Alejandro de la Costa has found period furniture and props that suit the Stone cottage and the era of the play perfectly."
Lawson Taitte, Dallas Morning News
A Moment in the Life of a Playwright
by Alejandro de la Costa, June 12, 2006
Q. You call this your "American play." Why?
A. I’m from Mexico. I was born in Chicago but raised in central, rural Mexico. I’ve lived long enough in this country to consider myself bi-cultural now. This play is full of Americana. These are people at a glance are living a “typical” American life. What I show is that even though it was 1942, there were, as today, dark sub currents in people’s lives. Over time we’ve sanitized and somewhat idealized what life was like on the home front, and we think of people being more innocent and not as “profound” which couldn’t be farther then the truth. By placing a dark secret, a mystery, in the middle of an ordinary household, I highlight the falsehoods of the “American Dream.”
Q. This play sounds very serious. Is it?
A. Yes and no. Like life, it has some very funny moments. I find that an audience appreciates humor, and likes to laugh. I truly love each of the characters and find humor in their weaknesses. I’ve written it so that you laugh with them, because their foibles are very recognizable. The one comment I get over and over again from the few people that have read the play is that everyone recognizes the characters. They tell me they have an aunt, a grandmother, a cousin, a friend, or they themselves are “just like that.” So in creating the mystery and the tragedy, I do it with lots and lots of humor. I’ve done it with all my plays, there’s always a mystery element, a tragic element, but humor drives the point home. If you want an audience to cry, get sad, or get scared, you’ve got to make them laugh. If they laugh, that means they care about the characters and what is happening to them.
Q. You caution people about not bringing children or teens to this play, why?
A. It is an adult play. It has adult themes. I don’t want to scare off audiences, but the subject matter, or should I say the mystery that unravels is…well I can’t give it away. But in the course of the play the audience hears different versions of what happened on a certain night. I’ve written it so that the audience solves the mystery long before the characters do. What the audience soon discovers is that the mystery isn’t in the “what happened” that night, but in the “how” the characters are going to handle it. When the scene in question plays out, it is intense, and also very sexual. I believe that there is a time and place for everything, and this play, is simply not appropriate for children.
Q. Anything else you would like to say about the play?
A. You’ll laugh, you’ll be intrigued, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh, and as you go home, it’ll make you think.
Cast clockwise from upper left: Jordan Willis as Clark, Mark-Brian Sonna as Euel, Taylor Bunn as Gramomma, Paula Wood as Emily, Caryn Spaniel as Willa Dee, James Cazares Jr. as Rayne