“The sandwich generation” refers to those individuals who serve as parents to their children and caregivers to their aging parents.
In today’s world, where people tend to have children later, there are more and more of us.
Playwright and performer Melinda Lopez was one of them.
At the same time she was raising her own daughter, she was taking care of her two parents, both in their 90s, sometimes successfully, and to her mind, sometimes not.
Lopez is one of Boston’s most highly-regarded playwrights, having been named Huntington Theatre Company’s first playwright in residence.
“I would jot notes on my iPhone as I was taking care of my parents,” she recalls. “I forgot about the notes, and then rediscovered them. I realized there was a story here.”
Lopez says she described the arc of the story to others in Boston’s theater community, and the response was universal: it’s your story, so you should perform it.
As a result, her one-woman play, Mala, about caretaking for her parents while raising her teenage daughter, was born.
“The paradox is that you think you’re going through it alone,” Lopez says. “In fact, the experience is universal. I hope my presentation of the piece reminds people that they aren’t the only ones.”
The play, about to begin a run at the Huntington’s Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA in Boston’s South End, has been called “piercingly honest and exquisitely moving” by the Boston Globe, and “candid, raw, and exhilarating” by WBUR.
The Globe and WBUR went so far as to name Mala as one of the best plays of 2016.
Nevertheless, Lopez sees the play as “a record of my failures as a caregiver. There’s a mythology around this. We think we will be the perfect daughters and fulfill our aging parents’ needs with grace and courage.
Mala certainly isn’t the first play to confront the question of aging parents, but Lopez says that much of the theatrical literature on the topic “sentimentalizes the experience and glosses over the nitty gritty.
“It felt really important for me to honor and name what was going on, and not pretend that it was a straightforward experience.”
Lopez’s play focuses on these questions:
“How do we reconcile our mortality with how much love we have in our hearts for those around us, and how do we make sense of how much we love each other, knowing that we will lose each other in the end?”
The added dimension is that while caretaking for one’s parents, one still has the responsibility of raising children. The play also touches deeply upon Lopez’s relationship with her daughter as well as the caregiving she provided her parents.
“The younger generation is watching you,” she says. “The way they will care for you is modeled on the behavior they see you performing for your parents. So it’s really important to get this right, not just for the sake of your parent, but for your own sake as well!”
Perhaps the key line in the play is when Lopez tells her daughter, “I promise you I will never be that old.”
Mala is hysterically funny and deeply painful by turn. The Huntington may want to offer seatbelts, because the play is guaranteed to be quite the emotional rollercoaster.
Mala, written and performed by Melinda Lopez, Jan 6-28, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston.
For further information, www.huntingtontheatre.org