Remember that imaginary world you used to visit as a child? At home or school, you could access it anywhere. Well, meet Clara and Mateo, for whom a magical world means kites, angels and tombstones in the Ring Theatre’s production of “Night Train to Bolina.” In a Latin-American world full of violence, these children struggle to make sense of their families, their religion and their budding adolescence, so they invent a fantasy realm where they are in control. Their favorite location to visit is the cemetery, where pictures dot the tombstones and they pretend to be the deceased — “I’ll be the woman who died in November!” Eventually, however, their need to escape escalates, so they stow aboard a midnight train to Bolina.
Joey Barrerio’s performance as young Mateo is enthralling and believable; his stage presence meets the personal standards he set in “Rent” nearly two years ago, and he continues to impress audiences with his versatile acting. But it is sophomore Alanna Saunders’ heart-wrenching performance as Clara that sweeps the audience away. Between her innocent enthusiasm and flare for the dramatic, she responds to every situation as a charming yet emotive 11-year-old. Together, Barrerio and Saunders achieve the perfect balance of friends who sometimes can’t stand each other, but above all, cannot live without each other.
Their chemistry with the rest of the cast is tangible, racing the audience along the bumpy train tracks of joy and sadness. The artistic interpretations of the children’s imaginary world are beautiful and tranquil, and despite the heavy material, it’s scattered with humorous lines from the children.
Playwright Nilo Cruz was in the audience Wednesday evening. He spent the last five weeks working with the cast, saying, “It’s been a joy for me [to direct this play.]” His stay at UM is far from over, however, as he has translated the Ring Theatre’s next play, “The House of Bernarda Alba,” and will be assisting rehearsals up until the performances. That show will run from Oct. 13-30.
As for “Night Train to Bolina,” opening night mistakes were minimal and well-disguised by the cast, and the play promises to continue being polished, poignant and all-together stunning for the rest of its audiences.
If you go:
What: “Night Train to Bolina”
Where: Ring Theatre
When: Through Sept. 24
Cost: $8-$20; free for students on Totally Tuesdays.