BLACK BEANS PROJECT the latest virtual undertaking presented by The Huntington is a delicious digital offering and one of the most effective theater experiences offered in a medium tough to scale for theater-goers craving intimacy and drama. This world premiere one act, two-hander created by Huntington artist-in-residence and Elliot Norton Prize-winner Melinda Lopez and Joel Perez features the duo as a brother and sister cooking up their mother’s signature recipe, a pot of black beans, seasoned just so, with secret ingredients and huge dollop of family history simmering in the background.
First off, the performances are first rate. I instantly felt like I was overhearing a real conversation between a big sister and her younger brother across miles and time, in real time, as they prepare a family recipe. They sip wine and chop up herbs and garlic to fry up a sofrito, a flavor base for the dish they are cooking. They are also creating a layered, foundational familial experience as the hour goes on– the PERFECT length of time for a virtual production. The pandemic has isolated the two from one another, but as they connect from their kitchens while they cook up this delicious dish, they begin to talk honestly in a melange of English and Spanish seamlessly sprinkled together. As they open up and air out the past, they discover some painful and joyful truths. The beans may have brought them together, but their family history keeps them and us there over that stove as they conjure a new family recipe for moving forward.
In fact, I found this format particularly well-suited to the material and the cast’s outsize talent. Director Jaime Castaneda knows how to move the action naturally through the digital space, the performers in and out of frame in a way that feels spontaneous to them and us– as though we are there and listening in. Lopez and Perez are two funny, gifted, charismatic performers who make a familiar family story feel alive and fresh. The Huntington has announced a “second helping of BLACK BEANS PROJECT” and extended the on-demand streaming of this production through JUNE 6! SEE IT & SAVOR! RECIPE HERE!