Playing a jaguar (and a cactus, and an owl) Montclair grad’s new challenge
(COURTESY JESSICA APPEL)
Jessica Appel is bringing her Montclair roots to the New York City stage.
Through June 26, Appel is appearing in the off-off-Broadway premiere of “Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares” at the Gene Frankel Theatre in Manhattan for a total of 10 performances.
She will be playing the roles of the owl, cactus and jaguar in the show.
“I’m thrilled to be in an incredible ensemble as a real ensemble member,” the former Montclair resident said. “Playing lead characters is fun, but there is something uniquely beautiful about committing to a role that supports the story of those around you more than it draws attention to yourself.”
The show, which won a national award from Table Work Press in 2020, features a young Salvadoran-American woman, Maya, who navigates trauma and family mythology through folklore in a coming-of-age story that takes place in Phoenix.
Maya’s story explores mother-daughter-grandmother relationships, mixed race identity, being a first-generation child of an immigrant, growing up without a father and fantasy as a coping mechanism while featuring movement and dance, according to Appel.
“I think these are themes that so many people can relate to, especially in a town as diverse and artistic as Montclair,” she said. “I think that a lot of people will see themselves in our main character, Maya, and be inspired by the artistic choices in the show. I know I do and am.”
The play is based on Christine Stoddard’s 2018 Semiperfect Press chapbook of poems by the same name.
Appel has starred in many of writer/director Stoddard’s plays at the Broadway Comedy Club in New York City, including "Clowns & Otters," "Hashtag Mountain Girl," "My Favorite Sex Toy" and "Forget Fairytales."
“Besides just supporting an up-and-coming writer/director, who is absolutely brilliant, and who I see becoming the next Annie Baker, or really just someone who's really going places — this show is absolutely wonderful, unique work,” she said.
Other recent credits of Appel’s include Snow White in "Group Therapy" at The Sugarloaf Performing Arts Center in Chester, New York, Hannah in "Night of the Iguana" under the guidance of Atlantic Theater Company’s Karen Kohlhass, and Samantha in the original indie film reading of "Out of the ’80s," which she co-produced with writer/director Andre Degas.
Appel moved to Montclair from Colorado at age 10 and attended what is now the Buzz Aldrin Middle School, where she performed in plays and choirs. She also went to Montclair High School and starred in many shows in the school’s performing arts program.
She starred as Little Sally in “Urinetown” at the Studio Players in Montclair after graduating from Syracuse University with her bachelor of fine arts in acting.
Appel credits Montclair as the place where she learned she could act as a profession.
Without spoilers, she mentioned that the play’s ending is meaningful for society right now.
“It serves as a reminder of the values of what is really important in the middle of times that are extremely challenging,” she said.
The show features Aztec dances, elements of nature, spirituality and art to bring out themes of mysticism.
“If you told me three months ago that I would be playing a cactus [Saguaro] in a brand-new drama and that I would know exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it I would have told you that you were crazy,” Appel said. “In fact, what I first thought when Christine asked me to play these roles was, ‘How am I going to make this work?’
“But that’s art. Understanding through doing. Trusting your collaborators, and letting your creativity take you wherever you need to go.”
Tickets, at $40 ticket in advance, are available at eventbrite.com, search the show’s title. The show is recommended for young adults and up due to its trigger-warning for sexual assault.
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