Joel Perez, Melinda Lopez. Photo by Rich Soublet II.


Old Globe Theatre, San Diego

Written by:
Lynne Friedmann
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It’s 2021 and siblings Henry and Mariana are doing what all of us were doing that year: Living through the pandemic via Zoom. Separated by a thousand miles, one day Henry sets up an urgent call with his sister. What’s the emergency? Beans. Specifically, their late mother’s black-bean recipe that, try as he might, Henry can’t seem to master. Is there a secret? Turns out a slew of secrets far beyond the culinary are about to be revealed in the world premiere of “Stir.”

Things get going when Henry (Joel Perez), hugging a bag of ingredients, enters the condo kitchen in Florida that he shares with his widowed father. At the same time, in upstate New York, Mariana (Melinda Lopez) carefully dons face mask and gloves to retrieve her Amazon grocery order; carrying the bag into her kitchen at arm’s length, as if it contains radioactive isotopes.

Perez and Lopez, under the confident direction by Marcela Lorca, bring impressive acting chops to roles they created as co-authors of this engaging, tightly written story conceived and crafted during the pandemic working, naturally, over Zoom.

Speaking in Spanish and English, the onstage cooking lesson begins with Mariana sorting dried beans one by one, an undertaking she finds meditative “like doing the rosary without the guilt.” Henry wants to cut to the chase and advocates for canned beans. What isn’t negotiable are the onions and garlic they chop and sauté in functional dual kitchens onstage. The aroma in the intimate Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre is intoxicating.

In walks Papi (Al Rodrigo, in a delightful, winsome portrayal) for a quick conversation with Henry before heading to a nearby park for another round of dominoes, a game through which he met and romanced his wife who died a year ago of cancer. Having lost one parent, the now overly protective children strongly object to Papi being casually out and about given the threat of circulating virus, but the jovial man has full faith and confidence in the multiple vaccines in his arms.

As the beans come to boil, equally hot topics bubble to the surface about loss, loneliness and crippling fear brought on by grief and magnified by the pandemic.

“I never knew how alone I was,” says Henry, a gay man with a commitment phobia.

“I was married 25 years and didn’t know how alone I was,” says Mariana, as she reveals her husband recently left her after he reconnected via Facebook with a high school flame.

A more immediate crisis is Henry’s failure to buy red-wine vinegar needed to finish the dish. An OK by Mariana to substitute a splash of red wine is all the go-ahead Henry needs to start day drinking. But what day is it on the pandemic calendar? It could be Saturday. No, wait. It’s Tuesday.

Henry reveals one secret too many just as Papi returns from the park and wants to take advantage of the Zoom link to talk to Mariana. Henry hits the mute button so his sister can’t rat him out which leaves the woman wildly gesturing and pantomiming in front of her laptop screen unaware she’s not getting her point across. We’ve all been there.

High marks to set designer Diggle for the twin kitchen islands, featuring induction cooking, working sink and gigantic cutting boards, that both anchor the story and set it free as the elements move around pivot points when distance or closeness are most needed.

This is a story that may bring tears to your eyes. If so, it’s not the onions.

by Lynne Friedmann

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