Alma Review – A Mother/Daughter Duet

Sabrina Fest and Cheryl Umana in ALMA - Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography
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The lights are on and the doors are open again at the Kirk Douglas Theatre! Written by Los Angeles playwright Benjamin Benne and directed by Juliette Carrillo, ALMA opens the Kirk Douglas Theatre’s new season – and the theater’s return to productions after a two-year pandemic hiatus. This dark comedy wended its way from readings in 2017 through the pandemic and finally to its world premiere in the home of its birth.

Sabrina Fest and Cheryl Umana – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

ALMA is the tale of a mother and daughter whose love made their survival and growth possible. Alma is Angel’s mom, and together they must navigate the barriers set before them to reach their future goals. Alma (Cheryl Umana) came to the U.S. – alone and afraid – when she was just 17 years old and pregnant, hoping to carve a new life in a new world for herself and her daughter Angel (Sabrina Fest). Years have passed, and now Angel is 17 years old herself – the same age her mother was when she made her life-changing journey across the border. Over those 17 years, the two intrepid females had special shared dreams which they incorporated into their goals as time flew by. They dreamed of things like good health, carne asada every day – and, finally, perfect SAT scores and a guaranteed spot at UC Davis. But somewhere in the passage of time, their dreams seem to have diverged while they never noticed. 

Cheryl Umana and Sabrina Fest – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

Even beyond her own ambitions, Alma above all wants her daughter to have a better life – and that life surely includes going to college to achieve dreams that Angel developed as a youngster. But now Angel is a teenager who may feel saddled by plans she made a decade earlier. When Alma arrives home from work early – expecting to find Angel studying for the SAT exams the following day – instead she discovers an empty apartment. Where is Angel? And so the house of cards – flashcards in Angel’s case – begins to fall. It seems that this teen has a mind of her own and has updated her dreams. Maybe going hundreds of miles away from her mother to study isn’t the best idea – especially given Alma’s shaky immigration status and the possibility that every knock on the door might signal an INS agent who wants to send her mother away. For perhaps the first time, the mother/daughter relationship has hit a definite snag.

Sabrina Fest and Cheryl Umana – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

ALMA is a delightful, realistic, and telling tale of what happens when plans and cultural values cause a schism between two ladies who have always faced the world as a single unit. Told with gentle humor but also precise logic, ALMA plumbs the depths of a relationship that means the world to both. This is a coming of age story which reveals what happens when a child grows up and may have ideas of her own which come into conflict with those of her closest friend – who just happens to be her mother. But this is also the story of immigrants everywhere: how to raise a child with a foot in two cultures – when to insist that parental views represent the best interests of their offspring – and when to let go. And Alma certainly tries every parenting skill she learned – including instilling guilt, trying to manipulate, and the very funny thump of a sandal on the rump. In the end, will love win out?

Sabrina Fest and Cheryl Umana – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

Kudos to scenic designer Tanya Orellana, who manages to make Alma’s home look really cozy and lived-in and costume designer Carolyn Mazuca, who makes sure that the clothing is serviceable and authentic. Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz’s lighting and Daniel Corral’s sound/original music set the perfect stage for the story to unfold. ALMA will definitely appeal to anyone who ever had a mother, with a special nod to families with a mixed cultural heritage. Get ready to chuckle while thinking, “I remember that…it happened in my house too.”

Cheryl Umana – Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography

ALMA runs through April 3, 2022 with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 pm. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232. Tickets start at $30. For information and reservations, call 213-628-2772 or go online.

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