Sunday, May 4, 2008

Backstage Review of The Judas Tree

The Judas Tree

April 29, 2008
By Christopher Murray

The historical story of currently incarcerated Latina serial killer Dorothea Puente, who dispatched elderly and drifter residents of her Sacramento boarding house, makes terrific dramatic material in Mary Fengar Gail's fictionalized The Judas Tree.

MultiStages' world premiere production is set a film noirish 30 years previous to the 1988 conviction of Puente. Voluptuous landlady Elena Fiero (played with defiant intensity by the comely Roseanne Medina) sees herself as a bruja and priestess of nature, saying, "I killed no one…. They sacrificed themselves through me," though she happily cashes her victims' government checks. When the uncle of a young woman who disappeared while staying with Elena asks a retired private investigator (John Haggerty) to insinuate himself into her world, he quickly falls prey to Elena's seductive charms and risks being another victim planted in her garden.

Told through the familiar Law & Order framing device of a trial, The Judas Tree alternates between somewhat prolonged two-person scenes full of florid language — "We chicas know the chacha of the flowers as they dance" — and sung commentary by five dancers comprising what the program calls the Chorus Corpus Flora, who wave their arms in ecstatic, Isadora Duncan-style movements choreographed by Jennifer Chin.

This play with music (by Anika Paris, with lyrics by James Schevill) drags in places by overlaboring the religious and botanical symbolism of Elena's specious rationale for her murders. But a strong supporting cast helps make up for that, particularly Daniel H. Hicks in the dual roles of the concerned uncle and an elderly boarder, Tanya Perez as a chatty boarder and expert witness, and José Febus in several roles, most movingly a disabled boarder who becomes an unwilling accomplice.

Presented by MultiStages

at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural Center's Teatro La Tea, 107 Suffolk St., 2nd floor, NYC.

April 26-May 11. Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., May 4, 5 p.m.; Sun., May 11, 2 p.m.

(212) 868-4444 or

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