When Wilma Bonet first read Ricardo Pérez González’s script for the play Don’t Eat the Mangos (through March 22 at Magic Theatre), she liked it right away. 

“First of all, it’s a story with a lot of women in it, and that’s unusual,” she said. “And they’re women that have characters besides the virgin/whore dichotomy. I liked that they were a family with secrets and things going on.”

Bonet, whose parents came from Puerto Rico, says she thinks the play reflects what’s going on on the island now.

“It’s the dilemma of whether to stay or leave,” she said. “It’s really hard to make a living or even to stay in a place you love so much.”

Bonet has been part of many Bay Area theater troupes, including six years with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, along with the Marin Theatre Company, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and American Conservatory Theater. She also developed the role as Abuela in the movie Coco, and voiced some characters.

In Don’t Eat the Mangos, she plays the mother of three daughters who are caring for their parents, and elements in this character remind of her own mother as well as other Puerto Rican women she knew growing up in New York. The play’s notes describe the action: “As a hurricane wreaks havoc, secrets are spilled and ugly truths emerge. Confronting their legacy, the sisters wrestle with what it means to stay true to self, familia, homeland… and how to best seek their revenge.”

Wilma Bonet

Bonet did a reading of Don’t Eat the Mangos at the Magic’s Virgin Play Festival a couple years ago. Later the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab picked it up and the playwright asked her to continue working on it as Mami. This meant they got the luxury of spending nearly a month working on the play. 

Bonet describes this experience of being in nature, getting three meals a day, and being able to take time with the play, as close to heaven. 

“We read it and discussed the whole play, and then Ricardo would go off and write again, and then we’d read that, so he can hear it, and the second week put it on feet and started playing around with where move,” she said. “That gives it another spark, and then you see, ‘Oh, that works, but that doesn’t work.’ The writer sees it and can make adjustments.”

In an interview, Pérez González noted that Tennessee Williams and Federico García Lorca have a big influence on his writing. Bonet, who was in the Oregon Shakespeare Company’s production of Streetcar Named Desire, says she had a similar experience with that Williams’ play and with Don’t Eat the Mangos. 

“I swear to God, Blanche DuBois is a character that stuck out and gave me chills,” she said referring to the protagonist in Streetcar. “Any time her story is on stage, you feel that around you, and you feel like the ghosts are speaking.

“Something similar to that happened with this play. It’s like the ghosts are speaking, and they’re there. We went around and saged the theater and lit a candle. It’s like, ‘OK, we know you’re here – help us tell your story.’” 

DON’T EAT THE MANGOS
Through March 22
Magic Theatre
For more information, look here.