"How did you get to be so old and not know anything?" a daughter sassily asks her father during the first act of Sonia Flew, and you involuntarily roll your eyes at her cheek and naivet.
"I don't know!" the father answers, and although you've got to laugh—the script and delivery play it that way—you also inwardly gasp at the honest humility of his confession.
That truth has evaded Sonia, the title character of this topical and transcendent play. She has lived a lot—a childhood in Cuba, an adolescent immigration to the U.S., a marriage to a Jewish-American—before we meet her as the matriarch of a Midwestern family with two late-teenaged children. And she believes the myth that motivates every child, that adulthood gets us to a place where we know. Or, more accurately, that it should. Instead, she is stunned when her son joins the Marines in the aftermath of 9/11, and her confusion manifests as fear, anger, desperation and retaliation.
It turns out that Sonia has been evading her own truth. She's spent her life trying to forget that her Cuban parents sent her to the U.S. alone—and against her will—after Castro came to power, while nonetheless harboring an unforgiving resentment against them. Her son's decision to enlist—again, against her will—triggers a showdown with her family and herself that can only be resolved by uncovering and dissecting her deepest secrets.
In lesser hands, Sonia Flew could have been a torture chamber of tear-jerking "moments" and over-the-top "messages." But playwright Melinda Lopez has delivered a script that seems lifted from real life, where profound truths exist side-by-side with petty arguments, trivial annoyances and flashes of humor—all of it boiling down to scared ways of saying "I love you."
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Director Juliette Carrillo and a talented cast obviously trust the rich characters Lopez has created and the authentic words she has put in their mouths. Rather than interpret their roles, they do the more difficult work of inhabiting them.
That said, it's difficult to imagine anybody but Judith Delgado as the adult Sonia. Delgado presents a woman of fierce passions and fears without indulging in the caricature of the fiery Latina. Despite her personal magnetism, however, Delgado is no scene-stealer; she makes everyone on stage better.
The same could be said for the play as a whole, which, despite its two hours of excellence, doesn't presume to really knowanything—except that secrets and resentment make our only-human experience a lot more difficult than it has to be.
SONIA FLEW AT LAGUNA PLAYHOUSE, 606 LAGUNA CANYON RD., LAGUNA BEACH, (949) 497-2787. TUES.-FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M.; SUN. & SEPT. 28, 2 P.M. THROUGH OCT. 15. $30-$53.