Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 2, 2024

REVIEW: Hartford Stage “Simona’s Search”

Hartford Stage, Hartford CT.
January 18-February 11, 2024
by Jarice Hanson

“Simona’s Search” at Hartford Stage is intelligent, touching, brilliantly crafted, and so thoroughly engrossing, it gives an audience member something to think about for days. It is a masterpiece from the pen of the highly original playwright, Martín Zimmerman. 
Photo by T. Charles Erickson
This is a complicated story, told in part, through monologs by Simona, the daughter of a father who we learn, experienced trauma in his homeland before coming to the United States. Simona, a precocious child, relays the story of being ten-years-old and noticing her father’s unusual traits as well as his reticence to talk about his past. She begins her search to understand how and why Papi acts and behaves as he does. 

The investigation takes her through graduate school where she looks for answers in the literature of neuroscience and behavior, and she questions whether trauma is actually passed from one generation to another. In a mere 90-minutes, this show gives us a full plate upon which to feast. Pacing is perfection and every word is crystal clear.
The collaboration between director Melia Bensussen and Zimmerman is highly successful. The show is part immigrant story, and part a detective story in which the audience becomes captivated by the “what if’s.” What if this is all in Simona’s head? What if Simona’s theories about post-generational trauma are right? What if the body and mind are repositories of collected trauma and grief?
To make these complicated ideas more visual and universal, Bensussen and Zimmerman use the magical realism endemic to Latin American literature and storytelling to show the relationship of body and mind. A simple set designed by Yu Shibagaki, projections by Yana Biryukova, lighting design by Aja M. Jackson, and sound design by Aubrey Dube enhance the multi-dimensional experience that enhance the visual and auditory experience for the audience.
Simona is played by Alejandra Escalante, an actress with an resume that suggests she is more experienced than the clean-faced actress we see who successfully expresses the feeling of growing from 10-years old to an adult. She is a winsome actress with grace that makes her a sympathetic protagonist.

Papi is played with charm and intelligence by Al Rodrigo, who, as a committed single father, clearly loves and wants the best for his daughter. In brief cameos as other characters he demonstrates an uncanny ability to shift accents and range. The third member of the acting trio is Christopher Bannow as Jake, Simona’s boyfriend as well as other characters in which his physicality brings both comedy and fear.
Zimmerman raises two important questions in his script: Do parents have a right to privacy, and do children have a right to know everything about their parents? “Simona’s Search” may well ask audience-goers those questions of your own families.