“The Gardens of Anuncia” is a valentine to one woman’s family

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Tally Sessions wearing a brown suit and deer antlers and Priscilla Lopez watching him.
Tally Sessions and Priscilla Lopez. Photo by Julieta Cervantes
Priscilla Lopez is sitting on a a bench watching Kalyn West dance.
Priscilla Lopez and Kalyn West as Older and Younger Anuncia. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre has been transformed into a fantasyland of memory to provide the setting for The Gardens of Anuncia, a musical drenched in magical realism and Argentine rhythms. Written and composed by Michael John LaChiusa as a loving tribute to his longtime friend, director/choreographer Graciela Daniele, The Gardens of Anuncia weaves strands of memory using details of Daniele’s childhood to create its story. 

We first meet the current-day Anuncia (Priscilla Lopez) as she tends her garden in a New York suburb. Describing the plants to us, she recalls her younger self (Kalyn West) and the women who raised her – her mother (Eden Espinosa), her aunt (Andréa Burns), and her grandmother (Mary Testa). Anuncia relates the story of her upbringing in Perónist Buenos Aires, nurtured by these three women who teach by example what it means to be a strong, independent woman and to understand the foibles of love.  The men in Anuncia’s story play less important roles: her grandfather, a sailor (Enrique Acevedo); her father, referred to only as “that man” (Acevedo); and two of her aunt’s suitors, the Moustache Brothers (Acevedo and Tally Sessions).

The show’s magical realism adds supernatural elements to the otherwise realistic story of Anuncia’s family. Early on, Anuncia demonstrates how she has the power to change her memories; later, a talking stag teaches Anuncia the importance of dancing through life and enjoying the present moment. Those who pass on during the story walk through a maze of green vines, meeting with others who have passed before. As we are fascinated by the unfolding story and its seductive beat, ultimately, we’re left to wonder just how much is true and how much has been rewritten or embellished by the storyteller.

The Gardens of Anuncia also deals with several aspects of love. There is the magnetic allure of physical passion, later devolving into spousal abuse between the mother and father. The simultaneous desire for what one does not have and rejection of that same thing, when it is available, is shown by the grandparents. As for the aunt and her suitors, there is the strength that comes from not settling for less than what one wants.

The cast of THE GARDENS OF ANUNCIA dancing on stage.
The cast of THE GARDENS OF ANUNCIA. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

LaChiusa, acting as both playwright and composer, creates a tight-knit, balanced show. His score is rhythmic and lush, with songs that convey the love and passion among these four women. As skillfully directed by Daniele, who divides choreographic chores with Alex Sanchez, the talented cast brings the fictional coming-of-age story of the director to vibrant life.

The scenic design of Mark Wendland, lit by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer, combines a downstage open space where the events in Anuncia’s life play out with an abstract vines-and-flowers upstage maze. Characters appear from and disappear into this maze, called into the story just as voices and faces are recalled into memory and then recede when reality returns. The orchestra, placed behind a scrim on a platform above the stage, provide the sinuous rhythms linked to Argentina, led by conductor/

keyboardist Deborah Abramson. Toni-Leslie James’ costumes bring to mind the working class atmosphere of the era and locale.

Our sense of self is made up of our memories and tales of the past and the lessons they have taught us. The Gardens of Anuncia bring that truth to light with grace and music, and dance. This is a musical to lighten the soul. I encourage you to make the trip to Lincoln Center to stroll through the vibrant memorial landscape of The Gardens of Anuncia.

The Gardens of Anuncia is presented by Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, 150 W. 65th Street, New York, through Dec. 31, 2023. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to Telecharge.com or call 212-501-3252.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.