feature photo: Ahsan Ali, Todd Lawson, Janice Amaya, Kenia Munguia, and Maribel Martinez. By Mark Garvin
If you’re from the Philadelphia area, you probably know that Kennett Square, in Chester County, is the Mushroom Capital of the World. The region produces millions of pounds of mushrooms annually…over half of the mushroom crops in the United States come from here. But, what do you know about the workers who pluck the mushrooms from the ground and get them ready for us to use?
Mushroom is a world premiere play written by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Mare of Easttown cast member Eisa Davis that highlights the immigrant families behind the mushroom industry in Kennett Square. It’s a must-see that runs now through October 16th at Malvern’s People’s Light Theatre.
In Mushroom, we meet people who are trying to create better lives for themselves and their families (some have family here in the States, some have left their family behind) and people who are trying to crush those dreams. We see the struggles of families who live in fear of ICE, getting sent back to a country where they no longer belong or can’t survive in, how they navigate the cost of living and lack of insurance. We also see the people who are trying to help. Ultimately, Mushroom is about human connection and how someone’s specific story is not just their story. We are one, whether we know it or not, and we must learn to listen and value one another. Mushroom allows us understand how and why; to open our eyes.
The Mushroom stage is set to look like a mushroom farm where the workers pick the fungi from dark rooms, yet the story allows for the “farm” to transform to other locations around their town (apartments, offices, courtrooms). Audiences witness the every day lives of the people who work on the farms, what we don’t know about them, and how everything they do links back to the farm and community. There are no main characters in Mushroom, this is an eight-member ensemble with stories that weave through one another. The cast includes Ahsan Ali, Janice Amaya, Laura Crotte, Todd Lawson, Maribel Martinez, Michael G. Martinez, Kenia Munguia and Angel Sigala. Everyone has their stand out moments, but everyone is equal in moving the story along.
What’s also incredibly unique about this production is the way the dialogue changes from English to Spanish frequently, with translations by Georgina Escobar. Both languages weave together in conversations and scenes. The language that isn’t being spoken at any given time is projected onto screens surrounding the stage so that you can still understand the story. Director David Mendizábal notes that one of the lines in Mushroom, “Listen, not just with your ears but with your whole body”, has been key in developing this production. Even if the language you understand isn’t being spoken, you will still feel the emotions of the characters on stage.
Mushroom is the fourth homegrown production from the New Play Frontiers Residency & Commission Program at People’s Light (NPF) program. NPF invites playwrights to immerse themselves in Southeastern Pennsylvania and create new works that speak to the local community while also gaining national interests.
I encourage everyone to make a trip to People’s Light this season and especially for Mushroom. Come early to wander the grounds a bit, make dinner reservations at the on-site The Fern & Fable restaurant, or grab a snack and wine in the lobby of the Steinbright Stage. You’ll find the area decorated in Mexican art work and even some themed snacks at the lobby bar (which also lists the menu in Spanish and English). Be sure to pick up a program book too (also bilingual) to read more about the development of this play and the New Play Frontiers program.
Tickets to Mushroom, which runs now through October 16th, are available here.