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Home / Life! / Art / ‘Sleep with the Angels’ review

‘Sleep with the Angels’ review

by Eloin Barahona-Garcia
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Families are complicated. They don’t always get along and there can be plenty of friction between even the closest of family members. 

Local playwright Evelina Fernández and director José Luis Valenzuela have captured that sentiment in their newest production, “Sleep with the Angels.” 

Premiering at The Latino Theater Company in downtown Los Angeles, “Sleep with the Angels” is a look at a contemporary Latino family. The plot follows single-mother Molly (Elia Saldana), an ambitious, overworked attorney that hires Mexican immigrant Juana (Esperanza América), to watch over her teenage children. 

In the course of Juana’s stay, the family begins to evolve and confront their individual struggles, all while Juana assists with her own magical touch.

The On-Stage Magic

“Sleep with the Angels” doesn’t waste any of its runtime. The story kicks off when Molly and her family enter the stage and the plot after moves at a quick pace. 

Quickly the production goes from meeting Juana to having a short musical number with Alex (Saul Nieto) in only minutes. It can feel somewhat jarring to have the story go by quickly, but it mostly works for “Sleep with the Angels.” 

Left to right: Alex (Nieto), Molly (Saldana), and Cindy (Tamez) | Photo courtesy of Grettel Cortes Photography

The actual story is fairly straightforward, but the characters make the entire play very entertaining. 

Juana is played excellently by Esperanza América. She comes off as equal parts caring and mischievous, which leads to plenty of fun moments in the play. The interactions between herself, Alex, and Cindy (Victoria Tamez) are lively and endearing to watch. 

Juana (América) and Alex (Nieto) | Photo courtesy of Grettel Cortes Photography

Whenever Juana uses some of her rural folk remedies to resolve issues like a lost earring or a talkative jerk character, you can’t help but smile and chuckle. Cindy’s interactions with Juana in particular lead to some of the funniest moments where her bratty, self-defeating attitude clashes with Juana’s unfettered positivity. 

However, not all of the jokes land. Some feel rather forced and are at odds with the chemistry that the characters have with each other. 

Not All Fun & Games

The entire play isn’t just smiles and jokes, though. The more dramatic aspects of the play do lead to some relatable and at times uncomfortable moments. 

Alex’s storyline throughout the play in particular is the one with the most emotional turmoil. The struggles with his gender identity are painfully detailed and form a major aspect of the play’s emotional core. 

Whenever the play touches on any subject matter like immigration, sexual assault, or violence in foreign countries, it doesn’t whitewash any of them. 

The dialogue can be compelling but doesn’t always feel tightly written. But the acting makes the words feel honest and scenes feel cathartic when they reach their emotional peak.

Back to front: Molly (Saldana) and Juana (América) | Photo courtesy of Grettel Cortes Photography

These emotional punches are made much more impactful by composer Robert Revell’s music, which accompanies any kind of tone that the show shifts to. In the few scenes where characters sing, both Esperanza América and Elia Saldana have beautiful singing voices that elevate the tracks. 

This is all accompanied by an intimate, beautifully realized set that is used for the entire play. Emily and Cameron MacDonald-Mock have done a wonderful job of realizing Molly’s home and making it utilitarian. Even when radically different scenes are taking place, the play never moves out of Molly’s home. 

Lights, sound, and the use of flowing fabrics make the transition to different scenes believable and mesmerizing.

“Sleep with the Angels” is a fun, if imperfect view of the contemporary Latino experience. 

The ending is a bit abrupt and the dialogue isn’t always sharp, especially with the serious subject matter. But it more than makes up for it with honest, solid performances from the cast and beautiful music that might bring a tear to your eye. 

“Sleep with the Angels” is running at The Latino Theater Company in Downtown Los Angeles and has performances that run until June 26

An interview with cast and crew of “Sleep with the Angels” can be found here.

You can reach Eloin Barahona-Garcia at eloin@beaconmedianews.com.

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