A Miami Transplant Takes On Maine In A Delicious “Sweet Goats”

If you’re up for taking a risk on a new script, you’re likely to find yourself pleasantly surprised by Sweet Goats And Blueberry Señoritas, the product of a collaboration between South Florida playwright extraordinaire Vanessa Garcia and nationally renowned poet Richard Blanco. Initially commissioned by Maine’s Portland Stage Company, where it premiered earlier this year, the work can now be seen in its only second major production at Miami’s Actor’s Playhouse until only this Dec 3rd

In case you don’t know quite what to make of the title, I suppose I’ll start by letting you know that it actually refers to two pastries, both of which are a lot more appetizing than their mysterious names imply. For instance, those not well-versed in Spanish may not be aware that the term “señorita” can refer to a type of custard-filled pastry as well as to an unmarried Spanish or Spanish-speaking girl or woman, the word’s more well-known definition. But, fittingly enough, what you’ll find at this show’s compelling center is a moving story of one señorita-making señorita who has made a life for herself in Maine but is now forced to reckon with her Miami roots. 

Beatriz, the young woman in question, has found some success as the owner of a small bakery, and has amassed an unlikely crew of quirky friends who are also amongst the play’s characters. There’s Georgie, her neurotic but warm-hearted roommate; Blake, a young gay man who uprooted his life to Maine to move with his veterinarian lover; and Maynard, a gruff woodsmith with a subtle soft side. 

As Sweet Goats begins, Beatriz is so well adapted to her new life that she has even started preparations to become a foster mother. But her sweet new world is thrown askew with the arrival of her Tio Eme. He is the brother of Beatriz’s own mother, Marilyn, who Beatriz has now been estranged from for several years. 

On one of the play’s lighter notes, Eme puts Beatriz in the middle by striking up an ill-advised flirtation with Georgie, who is desperate to find love but seems to have a habit of looking for it in all the wrong places. But more importantly, her relative’s arrival also prompts Beatriz to reconsider her roots as Eme raises the possibility that she might attempt to reconcile with her mother, who for some time now she has only been keeping tabs on by pretending to be a stranger calling with sweepstakes results. 

Meanwhile, Georgie also has her own baggage to work through regarding her former relationship with Maynardone of the character’s aforementioned wrong places, considering that he ultimately cheated on her with his ex-wife. The play also examines and unpacks aspects of generational trauma related to Beatriz’s family’s Cuban heritage, and expertly integrates their unique cultural traditions into the play’s storytelling. Though occasional asides in Spanish may not be understandable to all audience members, they do add a certain texture and verisimilitude to the play’s world that enriches our understanding of the characters’ reality. 

Also threading their way through the work are notably poetic dialogue and several metaphors that pay off handsomely in highlighting the story’s themes. Meanwhile, the fact that the action seems to unfold organically via mostly casual conversations gives the play a somewhat slice of life feel—though it also adds a meandering quality that may also have to do with a failure to clearly clarify stakes early enough in the proceedings. 

However, when an unexpectedthough rather well-foreshadowedtragedy strikes one of the characters, all of what has gone before suddenly snaps into a brutal poignancy, eliciting a visceral emotional reaction from not only myself but what seemed like a significant percentage of my fellow attendees. 

Naturally, this pivotal reveal pulls its power not only from the show’s script but from a slew of strong performances from the gifted cast. For instance, Melissa Ann Hubicsak makes for an enchanting leading lady in her animated and sensitive portrayal of Beatriz, ultimately serving as the work’s emotional lynchpin. Also critical to the show’s success is Barbara Bonilla’s embodiment of Marilyn, a complex woman who clearly cares deeply for her loved ones but who struggles with the harsh impact of her past. Completing the family unit, JL Rey gives Tio Eme plenty of fun-loving charisma, while also handling the character’s more emotional moments with grace.

And far as Beatriz’s eclectic circle of friends, Elizabeth Price masters many comedic moments as Georgie while also lending a winning truthfulness to the character’s vulnerability and loneliness. Michael Gioia balances snark and warmth as the eccentric Maynard while Conor Walton makes for a casually cool Blake.

In conveying their vibrant and specific characters, the actors are aided by costumes designed by Ellis Tillman, which aptly reinforce key components of each one’s identity. Meanwhile, lighting design by Eric Nelson and set design by Brandon Newton serve to complete the show’s visual picture, with the latter serving to strengthen themes of community by allowing characters to travel seamlessly between the play’s different physical spaces, emphasizing the way that their individual lives can at times effortlessly come together into parts of a cohesive whole. 

Lasting only an intermission-less 90 minutes, the show makes the most of its short run time by packing a powerful punch. You may well come away reconsidering the potential costs of holding too tight to a grudge when forgiveness may well be the better optionor you may find yourself reflecting on how the healing power of friendship can help us to make it through even the hardest times. Together, playwrights Blanco and Garcia are an unexpectedly delicious combination of literary flavors that conjoin in this sweet and subtle play that I’m guessing the vast majority of prospective audience members would find to be a perfect pre-holiday treat. To get a taste for yourself, feel free to go ahead and buy your ticket

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