Gigi Cervantes in Undermain Theatre’s ‘The Way She Spoke.’ (Courtesy photo by Rob Menzel)

Undermain Theatre concludes its season with queer playwright Isaac Gomez’s The Way She Spoke which opened last weekend. Gomez’s story is an emotional ride that examines the epidemic of missing and murdered women in Juarez, Mexico. The one-actor play stars Gigi Cervantes as simply The Actress and is directed by Blake Hackler.

With that premise already, it’s easy to expect a heavy story, but that doesn’t prepare for Gomez’s in-your-face story that was cleverly centered on their experience writing the play. In Sunday’s matinee, The Actress walks onstage as a frustrated actor coming in from a disappointing audition. She “talks” to an invisible Gomez who asked her to read their new play. She placates them right there and then and begins the story. As she enacts the script, the story settles into the character who then morphs into characters in Gomez’s story. The arc leads into a brutal reality that takes its toll on the main character.

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With the entire weight of the story on Cervantes, she delivered a deeply layered performance. She drifted fluidly among a number of characters of both genders without messing with the flow. Then she juggled the emotions of her own character’s arc as she came to her own realizations and even the character’s reckoning with the author. Her deep dive into the role allowed her to not only portray the pain of the story but even share it. When Cervantes exited the stage, the audience was silent. We had to release a breath before applauding. Cervantes and Gomez’s story had that much weight.

Hackler took full advantage of Cervantes’ talents while also directing her with an even flow. With emotional ups and downs, the pace of the show was consistent and moving. Steve Woods’ lighting identified Cervantes’ different characters but slyly added to some of the uneasiness of the play’s real life horror stories. Scott Osborne’s set was smartly simple yet still created an atmosphere of the playwright’s bohemian space as well as an air of the distressing streets of Juarez.

The Way She Spoke runs through June 18.

–Rich Lopez