Two women stand together center stage. An older woman with short blonde hair embraces a younger woman with long darker hair, who is holding onto her in fright. Hanging above them are large cutouts of noses and eyes dangling from branches
Carola Garcia (rear) and Isel Rodriguez in Garcia's Blanco Temblor, presented by Teatro Público as part of Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival Credit: Ricardo Alcaraz

Two emotionally intense woman-centered productions are among the offerings at this fall’s fifth Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival, with the first focusing on the psychological pitfalls in a tested relationship, while the second delves into a brilliant, neurodiverse woman’s challenges and triumphs. 

Enough to Let the Light In
Through 10/23: Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Steppenwolf 1700 Theater, 1700 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650, steppenwolf.org, $25-$45. Presented in English.

Blanco Temblor
9/29-10/2: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee, clata.org, $31. Presented in Spanish with English subtitles.

Billed as a thriller, Teatro Vista’s Enough to Let the Light In (see Emily McClanathan’s review), written by Los Angeles-based Paloma Nozicka, presents girlfriends Marc (Melissa DuPrey) and Cynthia (Lisandra Tena) as an engagement celebration is transformed into an evening of life-transforming revelation. 

Director Georgette Verdin says Nozicka was writing about “a classic case of ‘opposites attract’ with these two women. It sort of is looking at how the things that draw us closer together are the same things that tear us apart and what happens when someone we love threatens our most deeply held beliefs.”

She admits that Enough to Let the Light In will probably be emotionally challenging for audiences, and calls staging the production (which is presented at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theater) “setting the dominoes up while making sure that we don’t knock them over too soon.” 

Verdin explains, “When you’re in the process of something like a thriller that has a lot of twists and turns, it’s important to remember that the audience is coming in for the first time. It can be really easy to lose sight of what is surprising when you’ve spent weeks on this. A lot of what we’re doing right now [in technical rehearsals] is a lot of calibrating, to make sure that we’re not getting ahead of ourselves and thus ahead of the audience.” 

Melissa DuPrey (left) and Lisandra Tena in Teatro Vista’s production of Paloma Nozicka’s Enough to Let the Light In Credit Joel Maisonet

Verdin enjoys intimate stories with small casts and appreciated that Enough to Let the Light In plays out in real time, adding that she enjoys “the fact that it is by a woman and it’s about a lesbian couple, although it doesn’t really focus on it. I really appreciated that it is an exploration of love, in a very unexpected and surprising way.”

She further says that she and the author “spoke the same language.”

“It felt very easy for us to just talk about the play,” Verdin recalls. “It was clear that this idea that love, and the lengths that we’re really willing to go for love, was important to the both of us.”

DuPrey and Tena, she adds, threw themselves “wholeheartedly” into that love story. 

“They portray them as fully charming, flawed characters,” Verdin says. “It will be impossible for people not to like them. I hope people come to experience the work that they’ve done because they are just throwing it all out on the table in this production. It’s a beautifully haunting and unexpected play in the best of ways,”

Carola Garcia, the director and playwright of San Juan, Puerto Rico-based Teatro Público’s Blanco Temblor, says her play, while a work of fiction, contains numerous autobiographical elements. 

“I wrote it after a very deep crisis that I had,” explains Garcia, who also appears in Blanco Temblor. “I survived a suicide attempt—I am bipolar—and I came back from the dead.”

The play is about Marina del Mar, a Puerto Rican astrophysicist who is living with bipolar disorder and, thanks to a specific birth disorder, is incapable of trembling. Blanco Temblor depicts meetings between Marina and the people from her life, living and dead, as well as “her transit through the abysses and the lights of her psyche,” according to Teatro Público.

The suicide attempt left Garcia in a contemplative state. 

“I’m supposed to be dead, but I’m alive,” she says. “It was very interesting to recover my mind, intelligence, and thinking. I recovered my emotional world. When you are in this kind of crisis—when you are bipolar, it is for life—it is beyond your control.”

Garcia is a native of Puerto Rico; I spoke with her by phone shortly before she traveled to Chicago for Blanco Temblor’s debut here. She had relocated to a relative’s home because of the blackouts and damage from Hurricane Fiona.     

She wants Blanco Temblor to capture the diversity of her own family, she explains. Garcia’s mother was a creative professional, and her father was a scientist who also was an opera singer.

“He was a crazy man,” she says, laughing. “My mother died of COVID, and my father died after Alzheimer’s. This play is a tribute to my relatives, to the people who made me. I’ve been an artist since I was very little.”

Garcia also views Blanco Temblor as a metaphor for mental health. 

“I was so lucky, and I think it was a mission, like an ethical, artistic mission,” she says. “The main character is bipolar and survives a suicide attempt. This is a journey through darkness and into light. It’s not heavy. People will cry a lot, but they will laugh. When we had the opening in Puerto Rico, so many people of different ages came. It was a mixture of generations, and for me that was amazing. I felt like a rock star.”

She started writing Blanco Temblor at a workshop she took in Ecuador, finishing the piece during the pandemic. 

“I’m so happy, because the actor who plays Marina [Isel Rodriguez] was a student of mine at university,” Garcia adds. “Now she’s a university professor and a very, very popular actor in Puerto Rico. Most of the people who work with me have been my students. It is an act of love.”

Garcia will be in Chicago for the first time for Blanco Temblor’s premiere here and is proud her work is part of Destinos. 

“I’m very excited to share this with you guys,” Garcia says. “I know it’s a hard thing. People can think, ‘Oh my God, it’s about mental health?’ But people will enjoy it. It’s a journey, and there’s a lot of love there.”