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‘Black Beans Project’ explores family, food and pandemic life

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Black Beans Project’ explores family, food and pandemic life
Melinda Lopez and Joel Perez in “Black Beans Project.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY

Through May 30, Boston audiences can become members of the Martinez/Ortega family, joining half-siblings Henry and Mariana as they catch up, work through the grieving process and cook black beans. “Black Beans Project,” written and performed by Melinda Lopez and Joel Perez in collaboration with the Huntington Theatre Company, is a 50-minute one-act play streaming online that delves into the importance of family and food during the pandemic lockdowns.

The show follows Mariana, located in Ithaca, and Henry, located in Orlando, on a Zoom call. They’re catching up and cooking their mother’s black bean recipe together. Mami passed away a year ago, and the siblings are still working through the ongoing grieving process. As they cook and chat, other cracks in their lives are revealed, deepened by their separation from each other.

Melinda Lopez and Joel Perez in “Black Beans Project.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY

“Black Beans Project” is set in the present moment. After a year of pandemic lockdown, vaccines are being distributed and hope for a wider world has emerged. But the stress of the pandemic has left scars on both siblings. Though dispersed across the country now, Mariana and Henry grew up in New England, and conversations about life in Quincy and camping trips to the White Mountains in New Hampshire hit home for a local audience. So too does the emphasis on food as a purveyor of culture and of love.

“The impetus behind this project was food!” says Perez. “I’ve been cooking more during the pandemic, and found myself calling my mom to talk me through recipes because I missed Puerto Rican food.” For characters Henry and Mariana, cooking the black beans is a way to reconnect with their deceased mother. For viewers, the culinary Zoom call brings back their own memories of family recipes and pandemic experimentation.

Lopez and Perez are deeply relatable in these roles, vacillating from poking fun at each other to sharing pain and anxiety in the seamless way only siblings can. As restrictions are lifted and Bostonians begin to see family members and experience the world anew, “Black Beans Project” illustrates the challenges and joys of reuniting after a long and stressful separation. Everything has changed, and everything remains the same.

“’Black Beans Project’ is about cooking and the pandemic and love and family,” says Lopez. “What does it mean to be apart? What does it mean to be not quite out of this pandemic and having grieved, and yet to have hope?”

The production is available to stream through May 30 on a pay-what-you-can basis via the Huntington Theatre Company website.