Huntington’s ‘Black Beans Project’ is a warm meal
The warmth emanating from a stove where spices and beans are meshing coincides with the warmth exuding from the storytelling of Melinda Lopez and Joel Perez in the Huntington Theatre Company’s streaming production of “Black Beans Project.”The two portray siblings: Mariana, an older sister played by Lopez who is an accountant in upstate New York, and Henry, a brother played by Perez who is helping to care for their father at a condo in Orlando before returning to New York City when the pandemic eases.
They have come together in a Zoom call to attempt to re-create their mother’s much-loved recipe, simple food that is a way to pay tribute to the memory of the mother whose passing is still keenly felt.
In its construction and general theme of food and recipes bringing family members together during a pandemic, it resembles Amir Nizar Zuabi’s “This is Who I Am,” another Zoom streaming piece that was presented by the American Repertory Theatre last December. But the themes of that piece are much darker and heavier than this one, with the warmth of the beans cooking on the stove matched by the warmth of the memories of their mother, who sparkled as she played the piano.
It is also similar in that it is interactive, and if the audience is so inclined, they can make the black beans dish – perhaps with a glass of red wine — along with the performers during the 50-minute piece, which was co-created by Lopez and Perez.
Marianna lived with her mother for 10 years before her mother found love with her Puerto Rican husband. But the children are not their parents. Henry, who describes himself as a “gaytheist,” recalls a “very Catholic” mother.
The entertaining back-and-forth includes debates about family and relationships, ribald revelations about sex lives, and the trading of treasured memories.
Lopez has been a bright light on the local theater scene as an actress, writer and director, with the award-winning “Sonia Flew” and the one-woman “Mala” among her best-known work, and she is at her best when she is speaking from the heart, about her pride in her Cuban-American heritage and her own family. Her chemistry with Perez was forged by conversations they had as they wrote the piece.
Mariana is 12 years Henry’s senior and, in many ways, a surrogate mother to him. But it is Henry who must come to the rescue when Mariana tearfully reveals that her marriage – after 25 years and two children – has ended.
The siblings share memories of being “the brown family” that chose to live in Quincy and camped in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, where their mother cooked the “camp beans.”.
Henry confesses being jealous of the 10 years Mariana had alone with their mother before their father came along,
There is unfinished business regarding their mother, and Henry is tasked with persuading Mariana to join him in it.
The ingredients – sometimes Henry falls short of the exact recipe – are added one by one and the result is a scrumptious dish of warm memories about a mother who had a loving, well-lived life.
The Huntington Theatre Company streaming production of “Black Beans Project.” Written and performed by Melinda Lopez and Joel Perez. Directed by Jaime Castaneda. Streaming through June 13 on a pay-what-you-can basis, with a suggested payment of $25 per household. Go to huntingtontheatre.org/blackbeans or contact Ticketing Services at 617-266-0800.