Family Reconciliation in “Little Portugal”

Reviews

By Kia Standard
 
“We all have visions and dreams of where we’ll be when we grow up, but sometimes life doesn’t go as calculated.” Kayla Subica tells the story of her childhood in a close-knit Portuguese community in Toronto’s Little Portugal. As a curious child, she was captivated by the adults’ gossip, their superstitions, and their offbeat delivery of life lessons. We are drawn into Ms. Subica’s tale, and it feels very much like we are eavesdropping on a family dinner. Her maternal aunt Tia Manuela is the loudest voice at the family table: “Eating oranges will make you skinny. So, I should eat a bag of oranges, then I’ll be really skinny.” The family table is a source of pride or guilt, whichever way the pendulum swings. Some days her relatives accuse their offspring of being “too fat” or “too skinny,” or even both within a matter of minutes. The biggest fear is doing something so horrible that the news travels all the way back to Portugal, bringing shame not only to yourself, but to your entire family.
 
On the surface, Ms. Subica’s play has the simplistic feel of traditional family folklore; however, there is a complication within the family tree. She is not as close to her father’s side of the family, and her parents refuse to explain this estrangement. She remembers once being close to her paternal grandmother Vovo Christina and her paternal aunt Tia Sheila. But then, on the eve of Kayla’s seventh birthday, a heated argument between her parents and her paternal relatives severs their connection, leaving young Kayla feeling abandoned and confused.
 
Ms. Subica recreates the mystery of her family’s unraveling by masterfully mimicking the diverse voices and postures of her beloved relatives. Past conversations and scenes are put on full display, spoken in English with a hint of Portuguese. We meet her outspoken aunt, Tia Manuela; the neighborhood gossip, Señora Gloria; her sweet, frail grandmother, Vovo Christina; and others, each dynamically portrayed by Ms. Subica herself.
 
As a child, Kayla idolizes her Vovo Christina and dreams up ways to reunite with her. She even carries around a painted rooster, gifted to her by her grandmother, hoping the lucky charm will produce the miracle of a family reconciliation. In the meantime, she is burdened by her parents’ demand that she attends Portuguese school in order to learn her colors, shapes and numbers in their native tongue. Ever resourceful, she passes out cards with her photograph and phone number on them, thinking that one of her Portuguese classmates might know Vovo Christina, or even be related to her.
 
Over the years, Kayla makes further attempts to connect with her father’s side of the family. When she is ten years old, Tia Manuela allows her to call Vovo Christina, with the promise that she won’t tell her parents about the conversation. However, after speaking to her grandmother, the child becomes so consumed with guilt that she confesses to her mother; and her aunt vows to never help her again. Her father finally relents, promising Kayla she can visit Vovo Christina when she turns eighteen. Yet, due to her loyalty and respect for her father, or perhaps guilt, Kayla waits until she turns twenty-three to visit her grandmother.
 
As an adult, Ms. Subica has several encounters with Tia Sheila and Vovo Christina that excite, then disappoint her. In fact, when she does finally reunite with her grandmother, Tia Sheila gives her the wrong telephone number. She also begins to realize her grandmother is sharp-tongued, and mean-spirited. Maybe Vovo Christina is not the saintly figure of her childhood imagination.
 
Ms. Subica shared her story in front of a table and a few folding chairs in a very dark setting. Her engaging story and her colorful cast of characters deserve a more festive backdrop. Perhaps she could include an actual table setting from her traditional family gatherings, or projections with real-life photographs of her parents, aunts, and grandmother. Ultimately, “Breaking News from Little Portugal” is a story about love and loss, the deep love of family and the loss of childhood ideals. Sometimes when the veil of childhood is lifted we learn hard truths about our romanticized heroes; even more importantly, we learn hard truths about ourselves.
 
Breaking News From Little Portugal: Everyone’s a Puta (Even your Grandma)
Written and Performed by Kayla Subica
Nov. 4 at 4pm
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
 

KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.

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