After a relentless winter brimming over with blizzards, it probably wouldn’t require much arm twisting to get audiences in southern Maine to spend two hours on an exotic Caribbean island.

In lieu of an all-expenses-paid vacation, Portland Stage Company is premiering “Yemaya’s Belly,” an award-winning drama rich in mystical symbolism and imaginative fantasy.

The cast and crew of this colorful coming-of-age story includes a Latina playwright, a leading man from the Philippines and a Persian composer who finds artistic inspiration in Lewiston.

“It’s a real audience pleaser,” said playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes of her work, which won the prestigious Clauder Competition for New England Playwriting and was developed during Portland Stage’s “Little Festival of the Unexpected” last year.

“It’s a very unique play about someone who really wants to come to America and about how a character on the outside perceives us and why they dream of joining us here in this country,” she said.

The tale of an impoverished youth who uproots himself from a Latin American village in search of a star spangled utopia, “Yemaya’s Belly” was partially inspired by the playwright’s own ancestral saga.

“Basically, all of my plays have some sort of seed in my family history,” said Hudes, whose parents emigrated from Puerto Rico.

“My mom sat me down a few years ago, and she begged me to become a writer because she was worried that our family history would be lost forever.

“From my perspective as an artist, I think that’s what motivates me. It’s also a desire to add a story to the written record that I think is not there yet, and I would like to contribute it,” she said.

Even before being cast as the play’s transient 12-year-old protagonist, adult actor Alexis Camins felt an immediate connection with Hudes’ vision.

“When I first read this play, I was totally blown away,” recalled Camins, “It really hits home. I was born in the Philippines and I moved here when I was 9. The quality of life just doesn’t compare,” she said. “No matter how beautiful some tropical island may be, most of the people living in those conditions don’t have the luxury to sit down on the beach and watch the sunset. I think that the promise that America represents is overwhelming.”

The production team has strived to make the foreign landscape of the play relevant to Mainers while tapping into the state’s reserve of local talent. Serving the play in dual capacities as musical composer and onstage performer is Shamou, a popular presence in Lewiston as Composer in Residence at the Bates Dance Festival.

When Hudes and director Peter Sampieri decided some instrumental accompaniment was necessary for transitional sequences in the play, Shamou was asked to provide some original compositions. “The music is actually intertwined and is an inherent part of the play,” he said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.