Set in the Grand Ballroom of the historic Pfister Hotel, in present day Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two gigantic chandeliers divide the room, which is framed in gold, with walls covered in Victorian art. A Puerto Rican family with American roots in the South Bronx and Manhattan’s Lower East Side dominates a table toward the back of the ballroom. The matriarch, MERCEDES, is sitting at a table during the annual Mother’s Day Brunch, an empty seat to her left, followed clockwise by her niece DANA (daughter of LIZA and NICK), her daughter MARIA, daughter LIZA, LIZA’s husband NICK, their other daughter KELLEY, and KELLEY’s husband MIKE. Multiple conversations are occurring as DOMINIC, the hotel storyteller, approaches in a new blue suit, a notebook in hand ready for a potential interview.
Enter DOMINIC, who takes the empty seat next to MERCEDES. We see them talking but can’t hear their conversation until MERCEDES speaks up. Besides the two nieces, DANA and KELLEY, the rest of the family has a slight but recognizable accent.
MERCEDES: (points to a woman across the table) It’s her you should be talking to. She could tell you some stories.
DOMINIC: She’s your–
MERCEDES: My daughter.
DOMINIC: (surprised) No. She–
MARIA: People always think that we’re sisters. But she’s almost 80 and well . . . I’m–I’m tired of the comparison. She’s an oxatarian . . . no, an oxagenarian, oxageraranarian. Wait. What’s it called? You know.
KELLEY: It’s an oxag–.
DOMINIC: Octogenarian, I think. Eight generations.
MARIA: Heeey. You’re cute. I could just eat you up!
LIZA: (gently slaps MARIA with feigned disapproval) Maria! Stop.
NICK: (jumping in) Ok . . . so you’re the narrator. What does that entail?
DOMINIC: Well, I’ll be telling the stories of guests at the hotel over the next year. People like you.
MARIA: We are a corporation!
NICK: We are an organism!
MIKE: We’re a bunch of crazy Puerto Ricans!
Everyone spontaneously toasts with champagne.
MERCEDES: That we are. Those two are my daughters, Maria and Liza. That’s Liza’s husband, Nick. That there’s their daughter Dana–she’s 16.
MARIA: She goes to the Special Music School right across from Julliard. It’s better than Julliard, of course.
MERCEDES: And that is Kelley (it’s K-E-L-L-E-Y) and her husband, Mike.
MARIA: Kelley is in pharmacy, but she’s going to go into surgery eventually. And Mike’s in construction now, but he’s going to be the next Puerto Rican astronaut! He’s joining the Air Force soon.
DOMINIC: (to Kelley and Mike) Congratulations. (to DANA) You like the school, huh?
DANA: Yes, I play guitar–
MARIA: And sax!
DANA: –and sax. And I study voice.
MERCEDES: She has a beautiful voice.
LIZA: Yes, you should hear her sing. Like an angel.
MARIA: Like an angel. In fact, we were just going to do a rendition of our favorite musical, West Side Story. You know–
MARIA starts humming “I want to live in America,” then others join in.
DANA: I really like biology, though . . . and I’d like to be a mortician. I have strange tastes!
DOMINIC: That sounds pretty well-rounded to me. I used to be a bio major, then I switched to
DANA: That’s cool.
MARIA: Yes, it’s cool. We’re all poets at this table. And you–I just want to bring you home with me!
This time, it’s DANA who swats her aunt MARIA. No one else bats an eyelash.
MERCEDES: She’s always like this. Just watch.
MARIA: And Nick is Greek.
She spells and pronounces his last name.
Greek and Puerto Rican. Can’t you tell?
NICK: No one ever believes me, so I have to spell my last name and sing a song in Greek.
Without skipping a beat, NICK begins singing a syncopated song, slowly moving his torso and arms in the style of a Greek dancer.
MARIA: You know, Nick’s a poet. But he wasn’t always one, right Liza? In fact, he once lost a whole set of love poems that Liza had written.
LIZA: That’s right.
NICK: I didn’t know any better back then.
MARIA: You were young.
NICK: Seventeen. So I threw them in the trunk of the car–I was borrowing it from someone.
LIZA: I had gotten a whole set of stationery. And I filled up every single one with poems. I poured my heart and soul into them.
MARIA: And then he lost them.
NICK: But she’s still with me, thirty-eight years later.
LIZA: That’s true. He really is romantic.
KELLEY: He would write cards for me when I was growing up.
MARIA: Yeah, he made all these cards with crossword puzzles on them–
KELLEY: –that I had to solve. And then in each there would be a message to me about how much he loved me and so on.
LIZA: And don’t forget he’s an amateur magician, too.
MARIA: He was always pulling a little bunny out of a hat and stuff!
DOMINIC: Everyone here sounds so creative!
MARIA: And you. You’re so cute. We’re going to have you over and invite the whole family!
MERCEDES: Look. (pointing at my face) He’s blushing!
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
* Pictured (l-r): Maria, Dana, Liza, Nick, Mercedes, Kelley, Mike