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December 21, 2023
Looking Back at the Women Who Raised Her
The Gardens of Anuncia

Should you talk to your plants? Science shows that the sound of a human voice helps them grow. It’s also therapeutic for the gardener. In “The Gardens of Anuncia” at Lincoln Center Theater, the gardener is the Older Anuncia (award-winning performer Priscilla Lopez) faced with a couple of unpleasant tasks. One is the disposition of her beloved Tia’s ashes somewhere in the garden. The other is attending a ceremony where she will be honored with a lifetime achievement award for her work in dance in the theater. She’s uncomfortable accepting the prize, noting “Who needs an award for living so long?”

Michael LaChiusa’s sweet intimate musical is a look at the early life of choreographer Graciella Danielle who serves as director and co-choreographer of the show. Older Anuncia shares memories of her childhood in Argentina under Juan and Eva Peron’s government. But sometimes, as she explains, “you can change memories.”

She addresses her anemones, the newest flowers in the garden, since they don't know her story. She recounts memories of her Granmama (Mary Testa) and her tumultuous relationship with Granpapa. She lovingly recalls Tia (Andrea Burns) and Mami ( Francisca Munoz.) Anuncia was raised in a household of women and the actresses play the central roles in the musical. The male parts and the role of the talking Deer are played by Tally Sessions and Enrique Acevedo.

Testa provides most of the humor but she projects loudly and is a bit screechy, reminiscent of Ethel Merman. Munoz is earnest and possesses a lovely voice. Burns is Young Anuncia’s sounding board and is very sweet. The three are raising Younger Anuncia (a talented Kalyn West.) The male characters are secondary and, in fact, the relationships with the men have such a negative impact on the Younger Anuncia that declares that she will never marry. At this comment, Older Anuncia smiles wryly, noting that, in fact, she will marry three times.

The most effective scenes feature the women, raising Young Anuncia who becomes a dancer and later a choreographer. The story foreshadows the threat of Peron’s government that is later realized when Mami is arrested and it takes weeks before she returns home.

There are a few scenes in which the characters refer to ‘magical realism” as the Older Anuncia speaks with a couple of Deer who visit her garden. The scenes add little to our sense of the characters or to understanding of Anuncia’s life.

“The Gardens of Anuncia” is a small warm production set on a nearly bare stage at the Mitzi E. Newhouse. I’ve seen several shows that featured LaChiusa’s music but this one has the most appealing score.

Theater that is lavishly staged with choreographed numbers involving large casts is always memorable but a show like “The Garden of Anuncia” with its spareness and simplicity reminds the viewer of the real power of theater. An audience can be affected by language, music and characters. You don’t need special effects or glitzy settings and costumes.

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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