From the minute you show up at the Bushwick Starr’s new home, you’re awash in pink party trappings: You get a pink wristband when you confirm your vaccination status. If you forgot your mask, you’ll be offered a candy-pink one. When you enter, you’re greeted by a hostess whose glittery dress drips with pink bugle beads; you’ll be shown to a table adorned with a giant centerpiece of pink paper and fabric flowers. The walls and floor are mostly painted pink; warm lighting casts the strands of tinsel hanging from the ceiling mostly pink as well. (A few sections are picked out in other, equally vibrant colors: a kitchen in lemon yellow, a front porch in a rich bright blue, a garden full of giant flowers in front of a green trellised wall.) The tables are strewn with sweet Mexican candy–but fortunately, also with Flaming Hot Cheetos, because while Quince is genuinely sweet, it’s not at all sickly–it’s got a refreshing tartness, too. Quince (co-created by Camilo Quiroz-Vázquez and Ellpetha Tsivicos, with a script by Quiroz-Vázquez and directed by Tsivicos) isn’t created, if you’ll pardon the pun, with the rose-colored glasses, and neither is it interactive dinner theater a la Tony and Tina’s Wedding. Which is not to say it’s not bringing the audience into the party–there are snacks; there’s a great band; there’s a bar (and a round of mezcal shots for all toward the end); there’s even a taco truck parked outside for preshow purchasing. But there’s neither ironic kitsch nor sugary nostalgia here–the aesthetic may be delightfully over the top at times, but the piece at its core is about the complex, layered emotions at the heart of a Mexican American family, explored with considerable nuance and seasoned with an elegantly realized dose of the supernatural.
Cindy (Sara Gutierrez) is fifteen and her quinceañera is approaching. Her relationship with her single mother, Maria (Brenda Flores), is difficult enough, and now Maria is packing all her hopes into the quince she herself never had (due to her pregnancy with Cindy, though Cindy’s never done the math). Maria’s brother, Salomon (José Pérez), who lives with them, won’t go to the party: his paranoia is tipping into agoraphobia, and he’s convinced people are following him everywhere. And Maria doesn’t know about Katie (Saige Larmer), Cindy’s girlfriend. Cindy is proud to tell stories about her great-grandfather at school, but bringing Katie anywhere near her home and her mother is another thing entirely. Also, a jaguar is haunting Cindy’s dreams, the ghost of her grandmother Carmen (Talisa Velázquez) is still watering the plants in their backyard, their priest died, and his replacement, Father Joaquin (Camilo Quiroz-Vázquez), seems awfully invested in their family.
The story may be simple–girl dreads coming out to her mother and grapples with the secrets in her family–but Quiroz-Vázquez weaves a lot of family history into it: Cindy’s great-grandfather who supposedly returned from the dead. Maria and Carmen’s estrangement over Maria’s pregnancy. Carmen’s seven brothers, and their fates. Maria’s saving her own quince dress–which she never got to wear–for her daughter. Maria’s affection for the “bonita y guerita” (pretty and light-skinned) Kaitlyn, until she finds out she’s Cindy’s girlfriend in the romantic sense. Sal’s estrangement from his own daughter, and his growing paranoia. And the piece is also rich with magical realist elements that work both theatrically and metaphorically, and are gorgeously realized by director Ellpetha Tsivicos and the design team. The jaguar; Carmen’s ghost; a bird spirit presiding over Sal–all play complex roles in the piece, and all are decked in rich colors with unsettling headpieces; a fourth figure, a coyote that’s half household pet, half deus ex machina, adds a metatheatrical touch and helps move the story along.
Tanya Orellana’s set blazes with vivid nature motifs–the bright lemons on the kitchen cabinets, calling back to the grandmother’s garden; the giant flowers in the garden itself–only to be topped by Scarlet Moreno’s costumes, which riot with color but then also with elegant details: the antique lace-and-flowers of Carmen’s dress; the gorgeous embroidered flowers on Maria’s quince ballgown; the pastel rainbow gown that Cindy wears; the intricately beaded costume worn by an indigenous danzante Cindy meets as a bus stop. Cindy and Caitlyn’s everyday clothes, equally bright, speak to carefully chosen thrift-store chic, with equally bright colors and mixed prints; Maria wears more coordinated primary red and blue.
Yes, Quince goes on a little too long (especially if you’d rather skip out on the dance party at the end, because it’s between the audience and the door). And yes, the script can be a little heavy-handed with exposition, especially via the device of the new priest (and some groaner jokes). But the impression one is left with, sneaking through the dance party to the door, is full of buoyancy, love, and celebration: of heritage, of a milestone birthday, of acceptance. Cindy has her quince with her novia; Maria sees her daughter for who she is; Sal, perhaps, finds some release.