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‘All My Mothers Dream in Spanish’ unites magical realism with Afro Venezuelan folklore

Philadelphia Inquirer 3/17/2023 Rosa Cartagena, The Philadelphia Inquirer

All My Mothers Dream in Spanish begins with a bang. A drummer appears high on a platform surrounded by greenery, a djembe hanging from his neck. Towering over the lush jungle set, percussionist Anssumane Silla leads a thunderous introduction, and welcomes us into a sacred, spiritual realm.

Running at Proscenium Theatre at the Drake through March 19, All My Mothers centers on three generations of women who answer Silla’s call: abuela Maria Consuelo (Keila Cordova), her daughter Maria Soledad (Taysha Marie Canales), and Maria Consuelo’s granddaughter Camilla Marie (Cianna Castro).

The bilingual play, written by AZ Espinoza and co-presented by Azuka Theatre and Teatro del Sol, uses a wondrous display of magical realism — these women have the power to communicate with people in their dreams — in a story of intergenerational family conflict.

There are only three actors, but another character is present throughout. Guiomar was a 16th century queen whose husband Miguel de Buría led Africans in a successful rebellion in Venezuela in 1552. In All My Mothers, Guiomar is a spirit who possesses her descendants at different parts of the show. Each actor plays Guiomar, as they embark on healing deep wounds caused by colonialism and racism. Silla’s percussion — a mix of Fulani, Afrobeat, and Kuku rhythms from West Africa — indicates Guiomar’s spiritual presence and helps audiences follow the interplay between the spirit world and the physical world.

The set is a patio covered in prop mangos and bookended by tall winding trees based off of Espinoza’s aunt’s home in Caracas. In the program, Espinoza dedicates All My Mothers to the African diaspora throughout Latin America, writing: “This play is for all of them, and for this reason there is no specific country where it takes place.”

“I wrote it for myself,” said Espinoza, who is Afro Venezuelan. The West Philly resident wanted to interrogate the experiences of the Black Latinx identity, by incorporating the stories of real Black Latinas into each character.

Espinoza’s characters underline how anti-Blackness persists across Latin America. The dialogue tackles the violence inherent in Spain and Portugal’s glorification of whiteness, including attempts to erase the contributions of Africans from national memory, and to demonize Blackness in the countries they colonized.

Camilla Marie is part of a Black Panthers-like organization that aims to liberate Black people from the oppressive regime of in this fictionalized country. Her mother, Maria Soledad, was vilified for marrying a Black man and supporting Black power movements; which was part of why she left and moved to a rich, predominantly white country.

Espinoza excavates the racism each woman experiences to illustrate how the anti-Black hatred lingers today, in places of power and within our own families.

All My Mothers also examines how colonialism forced African traditions into secrecy. In one tense exchange, Maria Soledad says the magic was beaten out of her, but she never lost it. She reclaims her power with Guiomar’s help. ”Thank you for returning to yourself,” Guiomar tells Maria in an emotional moment.

“I was very specific that the play must be cast with actors who self-identify as Black and Latinx,” said Espinoza. “Because I think that, in the wrong hands, there are nuances of this identity that will be lost.”

The bilingual script creates varied experiences for viewers who will understand it differently depending on their fluency. Switching between English and Spanish, the dialogue felt fluid and authentic to the unique conversations of bilingual families.

All My Mothers touches on relatable themes of family trauma and growing pains in the face of systemic oppression. In Espinoza’s view, choosing to heal is the most important lesson.

All My Mothers Dream in Spanish” runs through March 19 at Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks St., Phila., (215) 563-1100 or

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