JL Rey as Tio Eme and Ashley Alvarez as Beatriz in “Sweet Goats and Blueberry Senioritas” at Portland Stage. Photos by No Umbrella Media LLC

Billed as a “Maine Made Play commissioned by Portland Stage,” the latest world premiere production by the venerable theater company offers a glimpse of people adjusting to a new life still fed by their cultural roots.

With “Sweet Goats and Blueberry Señoritas,” co-authors Richard Blanco, who rose to fame after being invited to read his poem at President Obama’s second inauguration, and Vanessa Garcia, an accomplished author in a variety of genres, have created, with acknowledged help from director Sally Wood and others, a warm and delectable little confection of a play based in the authors’ shared heritage and experiences as Cuban Americans.

The 90-minute play centers on Beatriz, a young Cuban American woman who has found a community of friends and established a career in the Pine Tree State. But, as she finds ways to work goat cheese and blueberries into the pastries she makes at her bakery, she remains troubled by her estrangement from her mother who lives in Miami, Florida.

As Beatriz wrestles with that, she nonetheless enjoys the company of a trio of local characters drawn to her warm personality and, though she also puts out a whoopie pie or two, delightful sweets that emphasize a Cuban affection for sugar.

“Sweet Goats” works best when being both playful and poetic. Its mythopoetic inclinations add dimension to the down-to-earth issues of identity and forgiveness it raises. Interspersed Afro-Cuban music and dance stylings further pull the play’s words toward something greater.

Ashley Alvarez provides more than enough amiable gravitas to her Beatriz as she tries to reconcile her history and her new life. We perhaps do not get to know her quite well enough to fully appreciate the extremes of emotion Beatriz is made to express. Her flavorful spirit is what will probably endure in most theatergoers’ memories.


When visiting uncle Tío Eme arrives, Beatriz is reminded of her family’s past: fleeing their homeland and all the struggles that ensued.

JL Rey, as Eme, is a formidable stage presence, offering bilingual wisdom and bits of physical comedy as he alternately consoles and aggravates Beatriz. His romantic pursuit of Beatriz’s friend Georgette, an open-minded single played with comedic verve by local theater veteran Karen Ball, supplies some of the best laughs in the show.

Jezabel Montero plays Beatriz’s conflicted mother, Marilyn. Montero adds comedy early but much more later as the play’s poetic reveries lead to a delicious final celebration.

Local favorite Dustin Tucker plays the likeable Blake, provider of the cheese (who, unfortunately, on opening night blew a little too much prop cigarette smoke into the theater).

Kevin O’Leary, known to write a play or two himself, gives a poignancy to his rough-hewn lonely guy Maynard, creating a sad character who whittles little bird sculptures while seated beneath a bare tree.

But existential brooding is far from the focus in this new play that will likely resonate with all those seeking to find the recipe for a happy new life together.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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