Mala Hierba

I'm sure you've watched a daytime soap. Maybe you've even watched a Spanish soap. Those daily serials that are totally ridiculous but totally fun because they are so implausibly juicy and anything can happen. You watch for the same reason people rubberneck at a crash site. It works on TV. It doesn't work so well on stage.

Tanya Saracho's Mala Hierba, directed by Jerry Ruiz, is being presented at Second Stage as part of the off-Broadway company's Uptown summer series. The title means bad weed in Spanish, and while Saracho's writing (peppered with Spanish) is just good enough to keep me from calling this a bad play, I can't say it's a good one.

Mala Hierba is a daytime soap on stage but the problem with this overwrought play is that it doesn't have the benefit of extreme close ups, underscoring or any of the other tricks of television that make TV soaps so wonderfully cheese-tastic and worth watching. Instead, the four women of Mala Hierba are underdeveloped, and devolve into absurd histrionics for stakes that don't seem real at all.

The story focuses (if there is focus) on Liliana (Marta Milans), a trophy wife for serial marrying man Alberto (whom we never meet; it's just the four women throughout). Liliana has something of a confidante in Yuya (Sandra Marquez), the house maid. Alberto's daughter, the self–absorbed and thoroughly bratty Fabiola (Ana Nogueira), a petulant young adult who brings drama in and out of Liliana's life, including inviting Maritza (Roberta Colindrez) to the house. Maritza is an old friend of Liliana's, and the two share a complicated history and affection.

Once we arrive at the end of Mala Hierba, you get the sense that Saracho was going for a character study, trying to show the struggles of a trophy wife, and the sacrifices she makes, as well as how she has to enure herself to her circumstances in order to survive. That sounds meaty, but the form the story takes—the soapy sense—keeps this from elevating above poorly–done camp.